A soulful tribute to artists then and now

March 14, 2002, midnight | By Omar Guerrero | 21 years, 8 months ago

Blair's multi-cultural Sankofa club celebrates influential African American entertainers

As a large crowd of Blair students, parents and friends packed the auditorium on Feb 22, the performers in Sankofa's "Decades in Black Entertainment" prepared to entertain their audience with assorted displays of talent worthy of the admission price.

The program, sponsored by Sankofa—Blair's multi-cultural performing arts club—celebrated the path of African Americans in entertainment during the 20th century. The show, which included about 30 acts composed of nearly 60 students in all, dazzled the audience with original poetry readings, raps, dances and songs. Sankofa raised $1,100 in proceeds from the show.

Sankofa, a Ghanian word meaning "go back and get it," is a club that seeks to inform Blazers about African American history, says senior Afua Tay, one of the show's hosts. Former Blair students Akua Tay, Afua Tay's sister, and Teddy Bempong helped found the club in 1999.

Senior Jamal Thorne believes the show successfully promoted Sankofa's goal of educating people about African American history. "I wanted the show to leave the audience with the thought that some things have been good in black history and that some things still aren't right," Thorne says, referring to poems read about social inequality.

With Tay and juniors Noelle Brutus and Stanley Freeman presiding, the program opened with an African dance, representing the roots of African American culture. The evening continued with performances personifying decades in black history. Among them were the "Cotton Club" segment during the 1920s, the "Motown Review" during the 1960s, the "Soul Train" segment during the 1970s and the "Hip-Hop Scene" during the 1990s. The show ended with a touching dance tribute to late R&B singer Aaliyah by freshmen Sharick Lungrin and Shatara Hill, junior Rania Campbell and Freeman, followed by an inspiring gospel medley led by senior Joe Outlaw.

Among the many memorable highlights of the night was Morgan Monrou's angelic rendition of "Voi Che Sapete" from Mozart's opera, Marriage of Figaro, during the ‘40s segment of the show. The young soprano singer left the audience in admiration as her impressively ranged voice resounded throughout the auditorium. Monrou attends a Virginia middle school and was invited to perform by Brutus, her cousin.

During the ‘60s portion of the show, the Queen of Soul herself made an appearance as part of the "Motown Review" segment. Junior Jennifer Ratliff as Aretha Franklin demanded nothing but "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" from the audience as her voice greatly resembled Franklin's in the famous soul hit.

In the ‘80s section of the program, sophomore D.J. Brobby as Michael Jackson marveled the crowd with dance moves reminiscent of the King of Pop. Brobby's fancy footwork was set to Jackson's hit "Beat It," with a backdrop similar to that of the music video's, including two groups of students acting as rival gangs along a graffiti-laden wall. Brobby's performance was proceeded by a mind-boggling physical display from the Blair Breakdancers set to a mix of funky ‘80s tunes.

Along with the wonderful acts that lined the show, perhaps the most impressive aspect of the program was the costume design. From traditional African garments to afros and bell-bottoms, the costumes clearly represented the different eras in the program.

Though the show seemed to run flawlessly, senior Ashley Hutcheson—Sankofa's secretary and a member of its stage crew—says this was not the case during rehearsal. "We never really ran through the entire show and people didn't have their acts together," she says. "I was scared things weren't going to work."

Despite the difficulties, the show was successful. "I'm glad we pulled it together in such a small amount of time," Thorne says, referring to the mere week performers had to practice in the auditorium before the show.

Although Sankofa had been planning the show since before winter break, Hutcheson says that it wasn't until showtime approached that it began to piece together. "I was so surprised," she says. "It turned out really, really [well]."

Outlaw says the production was held not just for the sake of performing but also for paying homage to the entertainers whom the students in the show portrayed. "We wanted the audience to understand that we were influenced by those people," explains Outlaw. The show, he says, was "about us paying dedication to those who have worked so hard to get us where we are today."

Sankofa meets Thursdays in room 344 at 2:15 p.m.

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Omar Guerrero. Omar Guerrero is will participate this year on Silver Chips for a second year. Guerrero was born in Managua, Nicaragua on April 20, 1984, the baby of the family, including an older brother and sister. The family moved to the United States in 1988 to … More »

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