The fall Dance Diaspora focuses on the musicians of Detroit and their influence on the evolution of African classical music in the United States. The fall show, “The Detroit Way: Finding the Africa Within,” will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday, October 7, and Saturday, October 8, in Warner Main Space.
The show is a senior honors project by Daniel Spearman ’17, a double-degree student majoring in Africana studies and jazz studies. The “Detroit Sound” served as the foundation on which the late Wendell Logan built the Oberlin jazz studies department. Spearman arranges this Oberlin-Detroit connection and the collective influence on black vernacular musical tradition.
“I will pay tribute to Dr. Wendell Logan, hailing from Thomson, Georgia, and artists from Detroit, including Marcus Belgrave, Donald Walden and Ralph ‘Buzzy’ Jones,” Spearman says. “Through this project I will be examining the Detroit Sound, why it’s so distinct, and where it comes from by exploring the roots of the honorees, and looking at the activities of self-determinant organizations that these individuals were a part of during the 1960s and 1970s.”
Spearman will also examine the ways that these Detroit musicians’ family origins, transplanted Southern culture, and unique musical experiences shaped their musical style, and how this influenced their students. Kenny Cox, a Detroit musical educator, came to what was, at the time, a small jazz program. Later, as Logan built a full department dedicated specifically to jazz education, Detroit musicians Marcus Belgrave and Donald Walden were brought to Oberlin. In more recent years, Oberlin students will remember Ralph Jones, also of Detroit, for his sound and dedication to the education of black classical music. Through his research, Spearman illuminates “The Detroit Sound” as an integral thread that runs through the Oberlin jazz legacy.
“I am truly excited to present this show as it is the last student honors show I will advise, and it is the second to last show for Dance Diaspora,” Sharpley says. “I’m excited to acknowledge some of the people who have really impacted the Dance Diaspora program as well as the jazz program. Even though I’m not in the jazz department, my drummers have mostly been in the program. A lot of my support came from Wendell Logan. We had many students in common, most from the black community. We performed many times together. My favorite was always ‘My Funny Valentine.’”
Sharpley says teaching and advising Dance Diaspora has been her passion for the last 25 years. “People think they can do black music without black people being there, that they can just give them credit and still maintain the integrity of the program. The integrity depends on the involvement of black people, and more than just one or two tokens. To maintain the integrity, you have to have black people involved more than just giving them credit. What black people bring is their culture; you can learn the tunes and play the music, but you can’t really get the feeling without that cultural, ancestral pull. The demographics of the students inform the program.
“In the liberal arts environment, credentials are a focus. But for the Dance Diaspora program throughout its existence and jazz studies under Wendell’s direction, more than just credentials were needed; passion was a necessity. Dance Diaspora has been my passion. I’ve cultivated some great students. I love my students. I’ll always love them.”
The show will feature Dance Diaspora dancers Cassandra Brown ’17, Sikora Shakur ’17, Khalid Taylor ’17, Niya Wilson-Smith ’18, Gloria Lewis ’18, Jazmen Bell ’19, Fernando Borges ’19, and Endia Lawrence ’19. Guest musicians include Ralph Jones, Woodwinds; Michael Cades, vocalist, Detroit native, and longtime Cleveland resident who sang at Marcus Belgrave’s funeral; and De’Sean Jones, tenor saxophone. The show will also feature alumni and student musicians including Malachi Thomas ’14, tenor saxophone; Zaire Darden ’15, drums; Shea Pierre ’15, piano; Lawrence Galloway ’15, trombone; Daniel Spearman ’17, trumpet; Jordan McBride ’17, bass; Gaiylen Gabriel ’18, bass; Michael Spearman ’19, trombone; and Richard Williams ’19, baritone saxophone.
Tickets are available for $5 at Central Ticket Service; cost is $10 at the door. Contact Central Ticket Service at 440-775-8169, toll free at 800-371-0178, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Spearman will provide an audience talk-back immediately following the show on Friday, October 7, in Warner Main Space.