It was all black tie and tails in the Centennial Hall, at the Newark Public Library, last week. Kevin Maynor, a renowned Opera virtuoso, accompanied on piano by Eric Olsen, gave a performance entitled “The Black Art Song”. Mr. Maynor, born in Newark, is a world-renowned virtuoso who has traveled throughout the world to perform. Eric Olsen’s accomplishments were equally stellar, and is considered a master in both the classical and jazz worlds.
The Black Art Song was the final series of educational events celebrating Black History Month, at the library. Equally important to note the selection performed featured African American Classical Composers, such as William Grant Still (known to some as the first American Classical Composer), accompanied by poems by renowned African American poets from the Harlem Renaissance and the Negritude Movements, such as pieces from Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Paul Laurence Dunbar, respectively.
The seats were full, the audience was diverse and equally noted were a large amount of young people recording on their iPad and tablet devices. With the backdrop of this historic hall with its high vaulted ceiling and massive fireplace, I could envision a time where such a recital was commonplace. It was a testament that Newark through it historic legacy continued to teach with culture.
Mr. Maynor shared with the audience his final selection, an old Negro spiritual, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” which directly refer to the Underground Railroad, an informal organization who helped many slaves to flee. “Swing low, sweet chariot” refers to Ripley, a “station” of the Underground Railroad, where fugitive slaves were welcome. This town is atop a hill by the Ohio River, which is not easy to cross. So, to reach this place, fugitives had to wait for help coming from the hill. The words of this spirituals say, “I looked over Jordan and what did I see/ Coming for to carry me home/ A band of angels coming after me”.
Mr. Maynor’s future projects include an Opera on Paul Robinson, a famous African-American athlete, (Rutgers Alumni) singer, actor, and advocate for the civil rights of people around the world. He will perform again later this year at NJPAC, and in a series of performances in Europe featuring some of the selections performed at the library.