Jazz, poetry, and history came crashing together last night in a crescendo of educational entertainment as Dr. Ron McCurdy and his jazz trio presented The Langston Hughes Project: Ask Your Momma: 12 Moods for Jazz in Mills Theatre. The presentation, a multimedia event full of live jazz, Langston Hughes poetry read by Dr. McCurdy, and a stream of historical images offered powerful insight into The Harlem Renaissance and the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.
The evening started with a welcome note and a quick lesson on the origins of Black History Month by Bay Path students Loren Jones ’20 and Jennifer McNeil G’19, followed by a moving rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing, by Bay Path students Anico Abshilava ‘22, Angelica Martinez ‘20, Katherine Ortiz ‘19, and Kyla Thomas ‘22. Elizabeth Cardona, Bay Path’s Executive Director of Multicultural Affairs and International Student Life, took the stage next to offer a few remarks and to welcome three members of the Bay Path community to come forward to deliver some of the most moving words of the night. BPU staff member and Alumna Maria Furlow, Loren Jones ’20, and BPU staff and faculty member Crystal Senter-Brown each took the stage to deliver beautifully powerful pieces of original poetry describing their lives as black women.
McCurdy then began the evening’s performance, mingling live music, spoken word, song, and imagery, bringing the poetry of Langston Hughes to life. McCurdy was the first to perform Ask Your Momma: 12 Moods for Jazz as Hughes as originally intended, setting his words to jazz. It was his idea to add the third component of images in hopes of tying all of the elements together into a powerful presentation that truly showcased the depths of Hughes’ words. “Hop inside, everybody,” stated McCurdy as he invited the audience to clap, snap, sing, and tap along with his performance, welcoming them to participate in the performance instead of just spectating. Each of the 12 Moods was delivered from memory by McCurdy, who spoke in a deep, powerful rhythm, and was accompanied by musicians on the piano, bass, and drums. McCurdy himself jumped in to play the trumpet at times as well, rounding out the jazz sound that gave life to the images projected behind him.
The evening ended on a powerful note with McCurdy challenging the audience to assess their own morals and ethics. “I hope you leave here tonight questioning what you stand for. Because if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything” said McCurdy. There’s one thing the audience didn’t have to question standing for, and that was the standing ovation at the end of the presentation.
A hot chocolate fueled discussion followed the event, with attendees gathering in Empsall Hall for a reception and the chance to delve into the lessons delivered that night. To spark further conversation, select pieces from The Intersection: Untold Stories of Women of Color On the Move exhibit currently featured at Hatch Learning Commons were on display. The exhibit, curated to explore the stories of local women pioneering the work of women of color on the move to create a more inclusive world, is on display at Hatch Learning Commons through the end of February.