Created in collaboration with the National Jazz Museum, Harlem 100 is a joyous celebration of song and dance that honors the centennial of the Harlem Renaissance and features Michael Mwenso, his band The Shakes and special guests.
At 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 23, this engaging modern-day variety show captures a unique and historically important era when such legends as Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes and Billie Holiday made Harlem the cultural center of the country.
“Harlem 100 is a musical journey that celebrates one of the greatest movements in cultural history while connecting the past to the present,” says Mwenso.
He and The Shakes will be joined by singer Brianna Thomas, tap dance artist Michela Lerman and vocalist Vuyo Sotashe in paying homage to the intensely creative post-WWI period when the famous Apollo Theater, Cotton Club and other celebrated venues were the heart and soul of a cultural arts explosion.
The Harlem Renaissance is considered by many to be an unrivaled period of brilliance in both profound intellectual expression and preeminent entertainment. According to Mwenso, the period was the precursor to the civil rights movement.
“It was the first time Afro-Americans wanted to impart themselves in a certain way, intellectually, artistically, and socially,” Mwenso said.
The show has Mwenso and the Shakes encountering an unexpected journey when a power outage leads them to discover their connection to the historic figures and great American artists that inspire them today. The musicians bask in the merits and tidings of their ancestral forbearers such as Fats Waller, Bessie Smith and Duke Ellington, who once lived in the very same neighborhood as they do.
“With this show we want the audience to leave with a deeper connection to the identity of these people, to understand them and understand that they meant something to the world,” he added.
Born in Sierra Leone, Mwenso grew up in London honing his skills as a trombonist and singer by playing in jump bands, reggae and Afrobeat horn sections, and at hard-bop sessions. His talent caught the attention of Wynton Marsalis who brought Mwenso to New York City in 2012 to serve as curator and programming associate for Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Mwenso began to collaborate with a group of Juilliard-trained musicians who became known as The Shakes. A global melting pot, the group hails from many corners of the world including Sierra Leone, London, South Africa, Greenwich Village, Madagascar, France, Jamaica and Hawaii. They gain inspiration from their unique backgrounds — merging entertainment and artistry with the jazz and blues found in African and Afro-American music. The group recently released their debut album, “Emergence.”
Brianna Thomas, praised by The New York Times for her “strong voice and big range,” brings the unmistakable influences of Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald to her performances around the world including the Montreaux, North Sea and Umbria Jazz Festivals. She was awarded “High School Jazz Vocalist of the Year” by Down Beat Magazine in 2001. Michela Lerman is a sought-after dancer, choreographer and educator who has performed around the world. In 2017, she conceived, choreographed and starred in “This Joint is Jumping” in London’s West End. Vuyo Sotashe moved to New York with a Fulbright Scholarship to obtain a Master’s degree in music, and went on to win first prize at the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival Vocal Competition. He is the first male vocalist to place in the finals of the Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Vocal competition.
The show takes place at the Bankhead Theater, 2400 First St., in downtown Livermore. General admission tickets are $20-$75, and for students and military, $20.