Gil Scott-Heron Tribute, "Roots of American Music" Performances by Aloe Blacc, Otis Clay, Lenny Williams, Swamp Dogg


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It may be the final week of Lincoln Center Out of Doors, but the festival isn’t winding down when it comes to exciting performances. This week, Lincoln Center celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the landmark Soul at the Center, highlighted by Valerie Simpson’s first tribute to her late partner, Nick Ashford, since his passing. The pair that wrote such Motown hits as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” and “I’m Every Woman,” made their performing debut as a duo at Lincoln Center 40 years ago. The Tribute takes place on Friday, August 10 at Damrosch Park.

A celebration of the life and influence of self-styled “bluesologist” Gil Scott-Heron closes out “Roots of American Music” and the entire festival on August 12. The concert, Pardon Our Analysis: An All-Star Gathering for Gil Scott-Heron features an impressive roster of musicians, poets and performers including Heron’s longtime collaborator Brian Jackson, Sapphire, Martha Redbone, Abiodun Oyewole, Hanifah Walidah, and more. On Saturday, August 11, starting at 12:30, Heron’s legacy will be discussed as part of the Stoned Soul Symposium, a series of panel discussions at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts that also includes talks on Laura Nyro, and Soul at the Center.

Performances by soul crooner Lenny Williams, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, Otis Clay, Swamp Dogg, and Aloe Blacc also take place through August 12.

In the summers of 1972 and 1973 Lincoln Center, along with pioneering African-American TV producer Ellis Haizlip, presented Soul at the Center, two, two-week long gatherings of Black musicians, dancers, actors, and writers in an unprecedented, consciousness-raising experience for performers and audiences alike. The festivals were based on Haizlip’s pioneering Channel Thirteen/WNET television series. Out of Doors this summer featured artists who participated in Soul at the Center including Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash of Labelle (Celebrating the music of Laura Nyro, 8/11), Abiodun Oyewole of the Last Poets (La Casita, 8/11 & 8/12) and others of that era: Nile Rodgers (7/25); Former Tower of Power vocalist and slow jam king, Lenny Williams (8/9); soul blues master Otis Clay (8/11); longtime Eddie Palmieri vocalist Lalo Rodriguez (8/5); and Soulful Songwriters Circle’s Dan Penn and {{Teenie Rogers (8/12). Today’s artists, who continue to build on their legacy, are also represented: Simply Rob of El Grito de Poetas (La Casita, 8/11 & 8/12), Aloe Blacc, (8/12); Black Rock Coalition and various artists participating in Pardon Our Analysis: An All-Star Gathering for Gil Scott-Heron (8/12); Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble (8/10) and more.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors is sponsored by Bloomberg and PepsiCo Foundation.

Friday, August 10: Valerie Simpson, half of the legendary songwriter/producer/performer team Ashford & Simpson, will lead Valerie Simpson and Friends: Tribute to Nick Ashford in Damrosch Park on August 10. The beloved duo responsible for “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing,” “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” “I’m Every Woman,” “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” “Solid (As a Rock)” and other era-defining tunes, also wrote and/or produced hits for a “Who’s Who” of music stars including Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell, Ray Charles, Diana Ross, Whitney Houston, and Chaka Khan. Their concert debut as a duo took place at Lincoln Center 40 years ago as part of Soul at the Center. On the heels of her just-released solo album, Dinosaurs Are Coming Back Again (a project she and Ashford had worked on for a number of years), Simpson salutes her work - and life - partner who died last year, alongside a line-up of artists associated with the Sugar Bar, the Upper West Side hot spot owned by the couple.

Opening the evening is Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble making its return to Lincoln Center Out of Doors. The Denver-based ensemble was founded in the early 1970s, by choreographer Cleo Parker Robinson. The company’s work is inspired by the African-American experience and is deeply rooted in Black dance traditions. It is the only dance company authorized to preserve the work of legendary, pioneering African-American choreographer Katherine Dunham. Its repertory boasts works by Dunham, Donald Byrd, Donald McKayle, Eleo Pomare and Ronald K. Brown. The 12-member ensemble has appeared in noted venues throughout the U.S. (including previous engagements at Out of Doors) and toured to more than 20 countries. Highlighting the company’s Damrosch Park program is the premiere of Fusion, by acclaimed contemporary Haitian choreographer Jeanguy Saintus of ayikodans. The company will also dance Arranged, a 2010 work by Milton Myers that pays tribute to original company member Marceline Freeman; and excerpts from Ms. Robinson’s signature Spiritual Suite, inspired by the choreographer’s youth growing up in a Gospel church in the 1950s.

Saturday, August 11: The 29th Annual Roots of American Music Festival at Out of Doors begins at 12:30 with Stoned Soul Symposium featuring discussions of the legacy of Gil Scott-Heron, the music of Laura Nyro, and the background and history of Soul at the Center. The symposium takes place at the Bruno Walter Auditorium of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts on Lincoln Center campus.

Roots of American Music, curated in collaboration with New Orleans’ Ponderosa Stomp Foundation, also includes: deep soul, blues and gospel singer Otis Clay & The Platinum Band. Clay’s early career in gospel (singing with The Sensational Nightingales), was followed in the 1960s with a series of hit soul singles (“Trying to Live My Life Without You”). He continues to record, produce and tour across the U.S. and internationally, while keeping up a long-time commitment to community initiatives in his Chicago West Side neighborhood; and a Soulful Songwriters Circle, a moderated program with master songsmiths Dan Penn (“Do Right Woman”, “I’m Your Puppet”,) Stax’s William Bell (“You Don’t Miss Your Water,” “Born Under A Bad Sign”), and the Hi Rhythm Section’s Teenie Hodges (“Take Me To The River”, “Love and Happiness”), who will discuss and perform their own work and the artists who have influenced it.

On the Roots of American Music evening bill at Damrosch Park on August 11, another celebration of an important legacy takes place with Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls All-stars: Sister Songwriters. A multi-generational super group including current students, recent grads, and teaching artists from the renowned music and mentoring program will play songs by influential female artists of color, including Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, and more in a musical journey that celebrates the important role African-American women musicians have had in giving rise to, and shaping 20th century American popular music.

Sunday, August 12: On August 12, the closing night of Out of Doors, Pardon Our Analysis: An All-Star Gathering for Gil Scott-Heron performed by the Black Rock Coalition Orchestra & Guests under the artistic direction of poet LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, brings together a stellar group of poets, performers and musicians, including Scott-Heron’s longtime musical collaborator, flutist and keyboardist Brian Jackson, novelist Sapphire (Push), Native American soul singer Martha Redbone, The Last Poets’ Abiodun Oyewole, The Family Stand’s Sandra St. Victor, performance poet Carl Hancock Rux, A. Van Jordan, Gordon Voidwell, Hanifah Walidah, Willie Perdomo and more, to pay tribute to the legacy of the self-styled “bluesologist” who died last May.

Scott-Heron, who counted Langston Hughes, Oscar Brown Jr., Paul Robeson and The Last Poets as influences, insisted that music had to carry a message. From his “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (recorded on the 1971 album Pieces of a Man) to his last album made with British hip-hop artist Richard Russell (I’m New Here) featuring the wrenching “New York is Killing Me,” Scott-Heron’s work addressed issues such as racial discrimination, poverty and war, and personal ones—his struggles with drug addiction—with powerful words and a distinctive musical style. The Black Rock Coalition, formed in 1985 to develop, support and perform “Black alternative music” self-produced a version of this concert at Symphony Space this past January with the cooperation of the Gil Scott-Heron Estate and joins with the Poetry Society of America for this salute.

Sharing the bill with Pardon Our Analysis: An All-Star Gathering for Gil Scott-Heron, are artists of two different generations who have distinctive ways of “getting out the message” — Swamp Dogg, who has embodied a unique brand of soul and r&b with a strong activist streak for six decades; and Aloe Blacc, who began as a rapper in the mid-1990s and shot to international prominence in 2010 with the hit single, “I Need a Dollar” — success he is using as a platform for continuing social-activism in his neo-soul/jazz music and off-stage.

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