In a cross-generational concert performance, mother Bernice Johnson Reagon and daughter Toshi Reagon will perform and speak about their music and work, guided by the concept of the series, Roots and Reason. The program will include roots music traditions-songs/vocal and instrumental stylings-and the reasons for the foundation and myriad evolutionary paths evolving from these groundings.
Recipient of the 2003 Heinz Award of the Arts and Humanities for her work as a scholar and artist in African American cultural history and music, Curator Emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History and Distinguished Professor Emeritus from American University, Dr. Reagon continues to do pioneering intellectual work in the field. Recently she created the Cultural Resources structure for the first online African American Lectionary.
Her early commitment to social and political activism is reflected in the determined way she has crossed categories to do her work, including forming and leading the internationally renowned a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock. With a catalog of original compositions based in her social and political consciousness journey, which provided voice for the mass actions in the struggle against racism in the 1960’s, the elder Reagon’s songs provide a contemporary window extending from that transformative period forward.
Of Toshi Reagon, The New Yorker said, "...her live shows shower retro funk, urban blues, and folk on the audience with evangelical fervor. To hear her is to believe." Not surprisingly, Toshi Reagon integrates a commitment to social justice into her own spirited blend of sounds, expressed through her fierce guitar playing and voice. Ms. Reagon-an accomplished guitarist, vocalist, and producer-is an extraordinary songwriter with an impressive catalog of her own compositions.
She is fearless and has a range which allowed her to create a Delta blues performance for 651 Arts in Brooklyn, and then bring to the Jessye Norman Carnegie Hall Anthology Concert a contemporary blues tinged rendering that provided an essential evening from roots to more evolved forms. In addition to these performance commissions, Toshi Reagon has performed with a wide variety of artists from Chaka Kahn, Nona Hendryx, Pete Seeger, Ani Difranco, Lenny Kravtiz, and Liz Wright, with whom she has worked as a songwriting collaborator.
This evening is possible because one of Toshi Reagon’s most consistent collaborators is her mother, serving as music director as well as creating the orchestral instrumentation for the 1993 opera Temptations of Saint Anthony: Robert Wilson Direction and Staging, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Composer. The two also joined forces in creating the music score for the Peabody Award winning WGBH PBS film series Africans In America: Slavery in America.
The Roots and Reason program is produced by Africana Studies Professor William "Bill" Banfield. This series celebrates the richness of blues, gospel, and bluegrass and their influence on American popular music, while also exploring the stylistic relationship with global folk. Guest artists featured this year include Regina Carter, Lionel Loueke, Donald Harrison and music from the Caribbean, the Mississippi Delta, Ireland and more.