Exploring the Rich History of African American Music at the First PS 114 Juneteenth Celebration
Students from PS 114 Ryder Elementary gave an all-star performance and a musical journey into the roots of African-American music from the 1700s to the present day in a performance titled “I See the Rhythm…a Juneteenth Celebration” during their first performance honoring the federal holiday held at the school auditorium located at 1077 Remsen Avenue on Friday, June 10.
“Juneteenth just became a national holiday last year, so it’s pretty new,” said Natasha West, a performing arts and music teacher. “Students don’t really know why they aren’t in school that day, so it’s a way of using the arts to educate students.”
The Juneteenth explanation was explained in a video and a short play during the performance where a student said, “Wow, I can’t believe slavery ended on June 19, 1865, and it took two years for the news to reach the slaves in Texas.”, to which the other student replied, “That’s why Juneteenth is called ‘Freedom Day’ because it celebrates the liberation of the last slaves in the South.”
Juneteenth dates back to 1865 and commemorates the end of slavery, but it wasn’t until last year, June 17, 2021, that President Joe Biden made it a federal holiday to be celebrated on June 19.
Performances began from the earliest days of slavery with African spirituals, drums and percussion to rhythm and blues, swing, jazz, gospel and hip-hop – a rich history of contributions to the musical landscape American.
A solo blues performance of Etta James’ “At Last” by a student received loud cheers and applause from a grateful audience of her peers.
West, who has taught for nearly 20 years at PS 114, said there were 11 classes performing on the show and they learned their roles in about three months, with the solo performer learning his song in just one week.
She said that although the 4th of July was about the liberation of the United States, there were people who still didn’t have their civil rights, so she teaches civil rights, equality and fairness in America and watches things happening today. She explained how many students make connections to the past and present, and students ask, “Why do we still go through the same situations that happened so many years ago?”
She wants kids to think about how we can change as a society and what they can do that can make a difference, because that’s how future leaders are formed.
“If you don’t show where we are, where we’re going, where we are, we don’t know what we need to change, so I think now these young leaders need to focus on how they can be the actors of change in society,” West said.