I asked immensely talented, successful and highly motivated community artists to give their impressions of the importance of February being designated Black History Month.
Here is what four said in their own words (more artists will be profiled in next week’s Camera).
Orin Isaacs (Amazing Race Canada, music producer)
(Isaacs is a Canadian bass guitarist, record and TV music producer, best known as the bandleader on Mike Bullard’s late-night talk shows Open Mike with Mike and The Mike Bullard Show.)
It’s February and another Black History Month is here. What does it mean to you? I don’t know, but I do know what it means to me. As a Black Canadian, it’s always a time of discovery, a time to appreciate and celebrate the accomplishments of people who look like me. Of people who I didn’t hear of when I was taught history in school and that’s the point. What amazes is that every year I find out about a new crop of trailblazers that I have never heard of before – people who have accomplished amazing things and usually in the face of adversity. If it’s history, shouldn’t we have run out of people by now? Nope! The more we dig, the more we find, and that’s why I look forward to February every year.
Karen Burke (Toronto Mass Choir)
(Karen Burke, a graduate of McMaster University, the Royal Conservatory of Music and a professor of music at York University, is the director of the diversified group of singers and musicians Toronto Mass Choir with her husband Oswald Burke who is their executive producer.)
In Canada, we are truly colour blind. For some, this banner is something they own, with national pride, as a statement that supports the distinctive richness of the principle of multiculturalism in Canada. In fact, this statement is lunacy. Most of us, in fact, have excellent eyesight and are keenly aware of the mosaic that is the tapestry of this great country. We need to not only see the rainbow of colours that make up the faces and races in the Canada of 2016 but we also need to celebrate this diversity. It would seem, however, Canadians do suffer from colour deafness. The many genres of music that are performed and recorded in Canada remain vastly ignored by the stakeholders of Canadian culture even though large communities of music lovers support genres such as gospel music.
George Randolph (Randolph Academy of the Performing Arts)
(The Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts was founded September 1992 and is a private career college specializing in singing, dancing and acting, located in Toronto. Randolph is a former principal dancer with the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble and with Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal.)
I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Maya Angelou’s statement that there should be one history textbook for North America that includes Black AND native AND Jewish history. I, however, would add those categories should expand to include women’s history and LGBT history. It’s ALL history, and it’s all shared history, OUR history. During Black History Month, there’s a tendency to focus on the quiet resilience of Dr. Martin Luther King and others like him. But the struggles of Civil Rights activists were not quiet. It was radical, revolutionary, loud – those are the voices I’d like to see us focus more on. A lot of those voices belonged to artists, who are by nature, activists.
Sharon Lee Williams (studio vocalist and private vocal instructor)