The Mann Center Celebrates Black History Month with “Voices of Hope”
The Mann Center for the Performing Arts’ annual Voices of Hope celebration returns this upcoming Black History Month in an entirely virtual setting thanks to its sponsors: TD Bank, Independence Blue Cross, Rivers Casino and Temple University. Taking place on the new Mann Music Room: Learn online platform, Voices of Hope will feature educational performances from four Black artists each Friday in February and will invite young students to complete supplemental activity guides on the artists and their genres. Featured artists cross genres of global music; they are Benu Ausar Philly (West African), Dr. J. Donald Dumpson (gospel), Eric Wortham II (jazz), and Chill Moody (hip hop).
Voices of Hope will also honor Rev. Dr. Lorina Marshall-Blake this year with its 2021 Innovation Award. Dr. Marshall-Blake, president of Independence Blue Cross Foundation, will be recognized for her work and influence on behalf of the region’s health and wellness and particularly in communities of color. In addition to her work with the Independence Blue Cross Foundation, Dr. Marshall-Blake serves as a mentor in the Macy Undergraduate Leadership Fellows Program at Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions and has been an advocate for providing health services to those who are uninsured or underinsured.
“The central themes for our Voices of Hope celebration this year are rightly centered on love, hope, social justice, and the pandemic’s impact on Black communities. Music and the arts are agents for positive change always, and zeroing in on these universal themes by amplifying the incredible contributions of Black culture in ways that are unifying and powerful is what we all need more of, especially now,” said Catherine Cahill, president and CEO of the Mann Center for the Performing Arts. “We are honored to be presenting these incredible artists and to be celebrating the advocacy and leadership of Dr. Lorina Marshall-Blake.”
On Feb. 5, Benu Ausar Philly will take the virtual Mann Music Room: Learn stage to kick off the month-long celebration. Benu Ausar Philly is a West African band led by Philadelphia native Saantis Davis, a local music educator, percussionist, and performer. Davis specializes in traditional West African music as well as other global percussion styles and shares his wealth of knowledge with students in Philadelphia. In addition to leading Benu Ausar Philly, Davis teaches and performs with other groups including Philly Reggae Band, Arrastao do Dende, Bad Kitty, Funk Logic, and more.
Dr. J. Donald Dumpson will follow with performances on Feb. 12 by the Arch Street Presbyterian Church Choir, which he directs alongside Rev. Carla Jones Brown, pastor. In addition to serving as Minister of the Arts at Arch Street Presbyterian Church, Dr. Dumpson is president of Diverse Arts Solutions and founding artistic director of the Philadelphia Heritage Chorale. Dr. Dumpson is passionate about using the choir and human voice to denounce artistic stereotypes toward the African diaspora.
Eric Wortham II will celebrate jazz on the Mann’s virtual stage on Feb. 19. Wortham, a classically trained pianist, composer, songwriter, and producer, draws audiences in with his stunning hand speed on the piano as well as his rhythm and soul. Wortham has toured with Grammy award-winning artists such as Jill Scott and Adele and has collaborated with artists including Vivian Green, Aloe Blacc, Music SoulChild, and more. He has appeared on shows such as the Grammy Awards, the NAACP Image Awards, The View, Good Morning America, Live! with Kelly and Michael, The Ellen Show, and Saturday Night Live, among others.
Concluding the 2021 Voices of Hope Celebration will be a performance on Feb. 26 from Chill Moody. Moody is a locally renowned hip hop artist from West Philadelphia, having won Best Rapper in Philadelphia Magazine’s annual Best of Philly Issue and also being named Philadelphia’s Music Ambassador by city Councilman David Oh. Moody is also an entrepreneur, with a clothing line, craft beer line, consulting firm, and record label all under his brand “nicethings.” He recently started a new group called “&More” with Philly R&B singer, Donn T, and is also releasing new music every Monday through his #MoodyMonday campaign.