Story-telling Gives Voice to Folklife Festival

Larry Saxton | 6/24/2009, 8:56 p.m.

Minister Thomas Bowen of Shiloh Baptist Church in Northwest reminisced about listening to his grandparents talk about their family history, struggles and triumphs and the importance of passing on words of wisdom during his sermon on Sun., June 14.

This year€s Smithsonian Folklife Festival presents €Giving Voice: The Power of Words in African American Culture,€ on the National Mall Wed., June 24 through Sun., June 28, and Wed., July 1 through Sun., July 5.

The program will examine and celebrate the role that African American oral tradition has played in shaping American culture. Sponsored by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the program will feature poetry, storytelling, radio, humor and theater.

€It€s hard to imagine a celebration more powerful and more timely than this,€ said Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

€Words have the power to connect people, to convey ideas, to give comfort, to make us laugh and to call us to action. This program will take a close look at how African American oral traditions have entertained and influenced generations of people regardless of race,€ Bunch said.

Performance venues will include re-creations of a barbershop, a beauty shop, a porch stoop, a radio station and a €hush harbor,€ the name given to a place where enslaved African Americans would go to talk without surveillance. The Festival€s re-created €hush harbor€ will provide visitors a quiet place to rest and contemplate their visit to the Festival.

Poets appearing at the festival include Sonia Sanchez, Toni Blackman, E. Ethelbert Miller and A.B. Spellman. There will be storytelling by Charlotte Blake-Alston, Mitchell G. Capel, aka €Gran€daddy Junebug,€ Baba Jamal Koram, and Valerie Tutson.

Comedians James Hannah, and Royale Watkins will also perform. The African American theater will be represented by participants Holly Bass, a hip-hop theater and spoken-word artist, and actor Roger Guenevere Smith. Talk show host Lorne Cress-Love of WPFW-FM will participate, and the station will broadcast live from the National Mall during the Festival.

For children, this year€s festival will include the €Young Wordsmiths€ section, which will show young visitors how oral traditions are part of children€s activities and games, including the use of rhyme and word play. There will be guided workshops where children will have the opportunity to compose poetry, tell stories, act in skits and plays, and act as comedians. There will be performances by the Asante Children€s Theatre of Indianapolis, puppeteer Schroeder Cherry, and singer-storyteller Ella Jenkins.

In addition to €Giving Voice: The Power of Words in African American Culture,€ the Festival will feature €Las Americas: Un mundo musical/The Americas: A Musical World€ and €Wales Smithsonian Cymru.€

This program is produced by the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in partnership with the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and co-sponsored by the National Park Service.

For more information visit the Festival€s Web site at www.festival.si.edu.

Larry Saxton can be reached at lsaxton@washingtoninformer.com.