New York City — Broadway stars came together Sunday, July 31st and Monday, August 1 at Columbia University, first for a conversation to expressed a deep desire to participate in an open dialogue about the social and racial justice issues that are troubling our nation, followed the next day with a night of unity and solidarity supporting the Black Lives Matter movement through artistic expression and conversation before a public audience.
The Broadway for Black Lives Matter Collective presented a free community event at Columbia University’s Lerner Hall Roone Arledge Auditorium, located at 2920 Broadway (West 115th Street). Guest appearances included six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald ( Shuffle Along, Lady Day), four-time Grammy Award winner India.Arie, Tony Award winners Billy Porter ( Shuffle Along, Kinky Boots), Jeanine Tesori (artistic director of New York City Center) and Tony Kushner ( Angels of America), Danielle Brooks ( The Color Purple), Rebecca Naomi Jones ( Hedwig and The Angry Inch, Passing Strange), Professor Kendall Thomas (Columbia Law School), Joshua Henry ( Shuffle Along), Camille A. Brown ( A Streetcar Named Desire), Professor Frank Roberts (Yale), Daniel Beaty, Daniel J. Watts ( Hamilton), The Broadway Inspirational Voices and New York City Center’s cast of Runaways.
Eight-time Grammy nominated R&B and jazz recording artist, songwriter and actress Ledisi made a surprise appearance with her soul-stirring rendition of Sam Cook’s much beloved 1964 single, “A Change Is Gonna Come” which became an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement.
Tony Award winner, Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominated veteran actor, dancer, and singer, Ben Vereen best known for his role as Chicken George in Roots, attended the Sunday afternoon discussion and made a presentation at the concert, Monday night.
The Broadway for Black Lives Matter Collective consists of a group of arts activists involved in the Broadway community. These members include Amber Iman ( Shuffle Along, Soul Doctor), Aisha Jackson ( Beautiful, Waitress), Mykal Kilgore ( Hair, Motown), Britton Smith ( After Midnight, Shuffle Along), Douglas Lyons ( Book of Mormon, Beautiful), Andrew Shade (Broadway Black founder) and Jacquelyn Bell (Bell Arts Entertainment) along with organizations Broadway Black and The Oneness Project.
Amber Iman posted a Facebook status in early July urging the conscious Broadway community to finally speak out for black lives.
“There’s Broadway for Thanksgiving, Broadway for Shark Week, Broadway for Trader Joe’s, Broadway for Ben & Jerry’s, Broadway for this Mosquito bump on my arm……. Broadway for Black Lives. Who’s ready? How long will it take to organize? Cuz clearly there’s NO REASON this can’t happen….. #LetsGo”
Iman’s Facebook status sparked Broadway to action, and less than a month later this showcase came to fruition.
The lineup was diverse, but all united in using their platform to encourage more discussion, action, and education.
The night of unity and solidarity also consisted of a discussion forum that included Damon K. Jones (Blacks In Law Enforcement of America NY Rep & BW Publisher) and The Phantom of the Opera star Tony Nominated, Norm Lewis best known for his character Edison on the ABC drama, Scandal and who made musical theatre history as the first African-American actor to perform in the title role in Broadway’s long-running production of Phantom.
In a statement, the Broadway for Black Lives Matter Collective says, “An overwhelming number of friends and colleagues in the Broadway community have expressed a deep desire to participate in an open dialogue about the social and racial justice issues that are troubling our nation. The event will bring Broadway performers together with policy reformers, educators, clergymen, public officials, and community leaders to discuss a plan of action. The evening will spark conversation and encourage people to discover their roles as active participants in a movement towards positive change.”
The evening, co-sponsored by Columbia Law School, consists of performances, Q&As and discussions of tangible ways in which we can actively promote change. Broadway Black, a digital platform dedicated to highlighting the achievements of black theatre artists, was live-streamed and can be viewed in the video below, if you missed the live stream.