Gil Scott-Heron, Nick Ashford, Soul at the Center
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 from August 8 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.
Thursday, August 9
The ultimate soul crooner, Oakland native Lenny WillIAMS has one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary music. His r&b and pop classics include the solo slow jam mega-hit "Cause I Love You," (for which he later shared a BMI Songwriter's Award with Kanye West, who sampled it for the song "Overnight Celebrity," recorded by rapper Twista) and "What is Hip?," which he recorded as the lead singer of Tower of Power. Solo projects in the 1970s first with the Motown label, later with ABC (MCA) Records, included the Paradise Garage anthem, "You Got Me Running." Williams has collaborated with artists as varied as Kenny G, Aretha Franklin, Rick James, Bobby Womack, Al Green, and Usher. In an unusual pairing, Williams shares a bill with the jubilant dance-punk band !!! (preferred pronunciation Chk Chk Chk), who are currently in the studio with drummer/producer Jim Eno of Spoon. !!! specifically requested that Williams share the bill with them for their Lincoln Center debut, naming his Garage era dance floor hits as important influences on their sweat-drenched club music.
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. For interesting background on the duo's first performances and the Soul at the Center television series visit www.thirteen.org/soul/about-soul/host-ellis-haizlip-andsoul-history
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.
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