An annual tradition celebrated across the globe, Black History Month was first commemorated in 1926 when Dr. Carter G. Woodson initiated the first “Negro History Week” in 1926 with the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) (an organization of which he had founded). Dr. Woodson chose February as it contained the birthdays of two men who were already celebrated by the African American community – Frederick Douglass (February 14) and Abraham Lincoln (February 12).
As the civil rights movement grew into the 1960s, young members of the ASNLH pushed to transform the week tradition into a month-long celebration. And in 1976, on the 50th anniversary of the first Negro History Week, the month was officially established, including a presidential proclamation under Gerald Ford labeling it as “Black History Month” -- an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans that recognized their central role in United States history. It is believed to be one of the nation’s oldest organized celebrations in history.
Not just during Black History Month, but all year long, The Philadelphia Orchestra and Ensemble Arts Philly celebrates Black artists who bring their passion, creativity, and talents to the Philadelphia region. This year, we asked the participants to answer one of three questions:
- How would you describe the impact of the arts on your life?
- How do you use your position/craft to affect progress (in our city, society, or beyond)?
- What advice would you give to a young person starting in your field?
“[if I were going to give advice to a young person starting in this field] I would encourage them to work hard and diligently and never be afraid of reaching out to others they trust for guidance.”
Dancer, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
“My advice to people starting in my field is to find what makes your voice unique and let that direct you along your path. Be creative and original and most importantly, be yourself.”
Viola, Curtis Institute of Music
“Embrace your own unique journey. There isn’t a straight path to follow in this industry, so don't compare your journey to others. Instead, embrace every moment of triumph, disappointment and success with gratitude. These moments are opportunities to learn and grow. Your journey molds you into the artist you are destined to be.”
Actress, Girl from The North Country
“I firmly believe that the ARTS saves lives. I grew up in DC, and the dance studio was my oasis. A place where I was free from the challenges of inner-city life. I felt immense joy, learned discipline and focus, and was empowered to have the confidence to go passionately in the direction of my dreams. Now, through my company Syncopated Ladies and the Chloe & Maud Foundation, we tour the world, and use our platform to encourage everyone to dream huge, live purposefully, believe in themselves, and never give up.”
Emmy nominated Choreographer & Founder, Syncopated Ladies
“Be dedicated to your daily continuous training and embrace versatility in dance styles. It is important to study different techniques so that you can be an open vessel for a choreographer to set their work on you. Make sure to take the time to network within the dance community so people can advocate and assist you in your dance journey. Most importantly, be resilient and never give up your professional dreams although it seems hard!”
Associate Artistic Director/Principal Dancer, PHILADANCO!
"Find the music that really resonates with you and enjoy it and dig deeper into it… If you work hard and have enough dedication and passion for music, it won’t just feed your own individual soul, it will feed others.”
Pianist, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society
“Be dedicated and believe in yourself. You may hear ‘no’ perhaps more often than ‘yes,’ so when you hear ‘yes’ work even harder. Also, ‘no’ may not always mean a definitive ‘no.’ It may mean not right now. Sometimes God tests us to see how bad we want something. It makes it all worth it when you do succeed. Understand the business side of the industry and work with a team who share your vision.”
Dr. Otis Williams
Founding Member, The Temptations
“In this current world of virtual relationships and social media communications, personal connections remain the most effective way of growing in careers and otherwise. I often encourage our students to meet with people face-to-face and never fail to follow up with a new connection. I believe that the most genuine form of support is having someone say your name in a crowded room, even when you’re not present.”
Regional Development Director, UNCF (United Negro College Fund)
“When I sing, I don't want them to see that my face is black; I don't want them to see that my face is white - I want them to see my soul. And that is colorless.”
“It would be the same advice I would give to my younger self, “Sing until you are heard and stand until you are seen. Do not be swayed from the callings of your heart. Know that your path is yours alone and only you get to design it. And ALWAYS remember, no matter what anybody else says, your dreams are worthy!”
Singer, Opera Philadelphia
“Passion, curiosity, and a love for people and storytelling. I love that I am able to put those qualities to work every day in my role as a journalist. We are here as a service to this community, and it’s a privilege I cherish. It’s a tough industry, and you’ll hear ‘No’ -- a lot. But as I always tell young people, all you need is one ‘YES.’ Keep going!”
Anchor, CBS News Philadelphia
“You get to a certain age when you ask, ‘Who’s going to stand up and speak out for us?’ Then you look around and realize that the James Baldwins, Muhammad Alis and Dr. Kings are no longer here...and begin to understand that it falls on you. I’m not trying to say I’m here to try to correct the whole thing, I’m just trying to speak the truth. Max Roach with his ‘Freedom Now Suite,’ John Coltrane playing ‘Alabama,’ even Louis Armstrong talking about what was going on with his people any time he was interviewed. I’m standing on all their shoulders. How dare I come through this life having had the blessing of meeting those men and not take away any of that? Like anybody else, I’d like to play feel good party music but sometimes my music is about the reality of where we are.
Trumpeter, Composer, Arranger