There’s a saying Christopher G. Smith, music teacher at Summit Academy Transition High School in Cincinnati, likes to share with his students: “I won’t let my label be my limit.” It’s the inspiration behind an ambitious performance, “A Musical Journey Through Black History,” the school’s young musicians will present Thursday, March 12 at 12:45 p.m. at 5800 Salvia Ave., Cincinnati.
Free and open to the public, the program will take its audience on a journey of black history, from Africa to the United States, through music ranging from African drumming to R&B. All the while, Smith hopes both audience members and performers walk away realizing “these students are capable of doing some great things,” he says, noting that often, some are not given such deserving optimism due to their special education needs and challenges.
The concert will begin with a performance of “Echo” by the school’s entire student body. Composed by Smith, the three-minute percussion piece was written for bucket drums and commemorates the transition of African rhythms via slavery into the United States.
Divided into three sections, “Echo” begins with The Celebration, which depicts native Africans in their indigenous country celebrating their culture and lifestyle in freedom. The March follows with its representation of native Africans’ tread from inland Africa to the coast where they were captured, sold into slavery and shipped to the Americas. A march-like rhythm, played in the bass of the drums, highlights this section. The Get-Down concludes the piece in a spirit of celebration with its use of African polyrhythm on the marching band drumline scene.
Smith’s young mentees will also present genres heavily influenced by African American history including “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues” by Buddy Guy, “Take the A Train” by Duke Ellington, “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard, “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” by Stevie Wonder, “Doo Wop (That Thing)” by Lauryn Hill and “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.
A classically trained tenor with a bachelor’s degree in classical performance from Central State University, Smith is currently completing his master’s degree in music education at Miami University. He says he hopes the musical journey creates “an appreciation for and willingness to acknowledge how much African Americans have influenced American culture, especially through music.”