Continuing the theme of the Harlem Renaissance as part of Black History Month activities at the Annandale Campus, the Ernst Community Cultural Center played host to the “Harlem Renaissance Fair,” presented by the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, on February 19.
Herb Smith, Annandale assistant professor of music, whose jazz combo has provided music for many events at NOVA over the years, served as the master of ceremonies for the event that was billed as an “evening of jazz, dance, poetry and displays.”
The evening began with an introduction by Edwin B. Henderson II, Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation founder and president. “Tonight’s celebration,” he said, “is a reminder of the rich and vibrant history and contributions of African-Americans to the fabric of our nation and the world.”
He was followed by Dr. Spencer Crew, Robinson Professor of History at George Mason University, who spoke about the “Great Migration” of black families from the South to Harlem and other cities that helped to fuel an explosion of cultural and artistic creativity.
The Thad Wilson Jazz Orchestra then took the stage and performed the music of Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and others who played at famous Harlem venues such as the Cotton Club, Savoy Ballroom and Apollo Theatre. Accompanying them was vocalist Sharón Clark, a Washington, D.C. native called by The Washington Post as “the finest jazz singer in Washington,” who is a former NOVA student and took classes from Herb Smith.
“Since I taught her, she has gone from a student amateur to a polished professional with her own voice and understands the nuances of the music,” said Smith. “She does not mimic other singers; she has retained the spirit of a Dinah Washington or an Ella Fitzgerald when she sings.”
Among those in the audience was NVCC Educational Foundation Executive Director John Ruffino. “It was a wonderful evening that was both educational and entertaining,” he said. ”We look forward to having the Harlem Renaissance Fair here again next year.”
There was a one-man play based on the life and poetry of Langston Hughes, titled “Dreamweaver: The Works of Langston Hughes,” performed by poet and actor David Mills that was sandwiched between intermissions during which reenactors of famous Harlem Renaissance personalities, such as Paul Robeson, Josephine Baker, Billie Holliday and Zora Neale Hurston mingled with attendees.
For the second set, trumpeter and bandleader Thad Wilson and his orchestra were joined by renowned neo-bop jazz pianist and vocalist Johnny O’Neal. Accompanying the performance were members of the Guardian Dance Company of Baltimore, who recreated the dancing of the 1930s and 1940s that would have been found in Harlem night clubs.
Dr. Joann Credle, professor and retention counselor, also attended and was accompanied by two student members of the Annandale Campus Black Student Alliance, for which she serves as faculty sponsor. “I thank Annandale Campus Liberal Arts Division Dean Burt Peretti,” Credle said, “for his generous contribution of tickets to allow these students to attend this delightful evening.”