Hampton Playwright Uses Music To Celebrate Juneteenth
Hampton Roads cities are holding events to celebrate Juneteenth -- the day in 1865 when the last enslaved people were freed.
This year, local artists are sharing the history behind the day through their work.
WHRV's Jonah Grinkewitz caught up with one artist, Marie St. Claire.
Jonah Grinkewitz: Marie St. Clair, thanks for talking with me.
Marie St. Claire: Thank you so much for the opportunity, Jonah.
JG: You're very welcome. This is not the first time you've curated programing around the Juneteenth holiday. What does this holiday and this day mean to you?
MSC: As an amateur historian, I love history and I got involved in this because for my job I decided to write a play about something that had to do with Hampton. The first enslaved people arrived at Point Comfort right here in our area. So we have this rich bit of history here. But sometimes people feel that it is so heavy to learn about these things and to come out to programs about these things. So Juneteenth opens the door to something else. Juneteenth is celebration.
JG: You started a new theater group called Fragments of Freedom. How are you incorporating them into this performance and what will it look like?
MSC: We're breaking down different parts of the story and we're using spoken word. It's something that you don't normally see. Instead of doing a play like we did a couple of years ago...we did a whole reenactment of the day that order number three was given and the enslaved in Texas were free...This year we didn't want to come back and do the same thing. We wanted to do something very different and unique. And we also want to join in and grab the younger people and pull them into this story. Spoken word is a wonderful way to do that.
JG: History also tells us music played an important role in the lives of enslaved people. Local soul and R&B singer K'Bana Blaq will be performing on Wednesday. Why did you choose him and how will music be incorporated into the program?
MSC: I've known K'Bana Blaq for a long time and he is just one of the most legendary, phenomenal artists that this part of the world has to offer. K'Bana is also extremely creative. He has chosen a body of music that speaks of being a warrior through tribulation and about freedom. And he's going to share those original songs as the second part of this program.
But the music and spoken word will complement each other because, you're right, even with the program we're going to be singing Go Down, Moses, Amazing Grace and some other spirituals. And we're using that music to connect with the story and to give it more of a vibrant nature. We're calling our program Juneteenth: Emancipation and Celebration. Being freed is what we're talking about. And then K'Bana is bringing the celebration through the music.
So what I hope will stay in the minds of people is that you understand so much better where you are when you understand the history of how you got there. We want to show that there's some very tragic stories in history, but there are some wonderful success stories in history. And so Juneteenth is more than just that act of the last of the enslaved being set free. Now, I think it's kind of transcended to mean joy. To mean freedom. And we're celebrating freedom.
JG: Marie St. Claire, I want to thank you so much for talking with me. And I wish you the best of luck with the performance.
MSC: Thank you so much, Jonah. I am privileged and honored to have had this time with you.
WHAT: “Juneteenth: Emancipation and Celebration through Spoken Word Theatre and Music” virtual event.
WHEN: Wednesday, June 16 at 7 p.m.
WHERE: Stream the event on the Hampton History Museum Facebook page.