Vancouver City Hall grooves to Black History Month beats

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      It's certainly not every day that Vancouver City Hall explodes with capoeira beats or listens to eloquent African Canadian poetry. But at the official launch of Black History Month on February 1, a variety of performers enthralled a full house that packed the council chambers.

      Vancouver Park Board Commissioner Constance Barnes hosted the event with warmth, humour, and style.

      Singer Cameron Barnett kicked things off by singing the reverential "Life Every Voice and Sing" by James Weldon Johnson. Here's a snippet of his performance.


      Mayor Gregor Robertson spoke about the importance of BHM, making note of various local figures, including local legendary lifeguard Joe Fortes. He also spoke about Hollywood tap dancer Jeni LeGon, who settled in Vancouver. LeGon died at age 96 in December 2012.

      Interested in learning more about LeGon? A free screening of the documentary Jeni LeGon: Living in a Great Big Way, will play today (February 4, 7 p.m.) at Vancity Theatre as part of their BHM screening series.

      Robertson read out an official proclamation, declaring February as Black History Month in Vancouver. Robertson invited her partner, Frank Clavin, to accept the official proclamation of BHM.

      Tap dancer Troy McLaughlin, along with bass player John Howard and trumpeter Langston Raymond, got the audience snapping their fingers along to a rousing tribute to LeGon: a song and dance performance of "Living in a Great Big Way". In her introduction, Constance noted that McLaughlin once shared the stage with LeGon.

      The event was also the launch of the anthology The Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian Poetry. Editors Valerie Mason-John and Kevan Anthony Cameron, and contributor Juliane Okot Bitek all spoke at the event. (A separate post on the Georgia Straight's Books blog highlights their speeches and readings).

      Jackie Bailey of Canada Post helped to unveil two BHM stamps, one of Montreal-born jazz pianist Oliver Jones and another of Vancouver lifeguard Joe Fortes. (See the photo gallery below for images of the stamps.)

      Axé Capoeira ended the event with a bang—literally. Performers not only pounded out infectious beats with drums but also thrilled the audience with their acrobatic skills.

      Will these dynamic performances inspire Vancouver city councillors to perform back flips, bang on drums, and tap dance at the next city council meetings? Let's hope so.


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      Steve Bowell

      Feb 5, 2013 at 3:36pm

      Get your black facts right: "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was written by James Weldon JOHNSON, who wrote the lyrics in collaboration with his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, who wrote the melody.