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'Forgotten Voices' Premieres On Juneteenth To Commemorate Black Musicians Who Have Been Excluded From History

Courtesy of Skylight Music Theatre
Courtesy of Skylight Music Theatre
"Forgotten Voices — Unearthing the Roots of American Music" premieres on June 19 and runs through July 18.

Rock and roll, hip-hop, the blues, disco and even heavy metal are all influenced by Black artists. Popular rock groups such as Metallica or Nirvana borrowed the rhythmic and melodic styles of Black musicians, but Black musicians have been erased from the history books.

An upcoming show at the Skylight Music Theatre is honoring the work of those excluded artists who influenced the fabric of popular music. Forgotten Voices — Unearthing the Roots of American Music will premiere on Juneteenth to celebrate the contributions of Black artists starting from 1619 up to today.

Christie Chiles Twillie is the music director of Forgotten Voices. She says when Skylight reached out about putting together a program that showcased the impact Black musicians have had on popular music, they originally suggested starting with the creation of jazz but she said that to understand the full story they had to go back to when the first enslaved people were brought to the Americas.

“For me, Forgotten Voices means a lot if things, it means the voices that we no longer heard of our loved ones and ancestors as these ships pulled away from the shore and emerged on another shore. They are the memories of rhythms, of melodies, of themes, of the traditions of storytelling through song and dance, and how it impacted basically all of the music that emerged here in the U.S.,” says Twillie.

Even as someone who had studied the history of Black musicians and been a part of African ensembles, she says while researching for this program, she still found herself being surprised at how omnipresent the sound of Black musicians across music.

“Having played so many different genres of music myself that I didn’t hear how evident [the inspiration is] in all of these forms. It’s like, it’s right in front of you if you listen really carefully,” she says.

Program Director Sheri Williams Pannell says she hopes that the connection to Juneteenth will remind people to celebrate the day when the last enslaved people in the United States were finally freed but also remind people that just because the 13th amendment was ratified, doesn’t mean the struggle for freedom has ended for every person in the United States.

She says that Forgotten Voices is a way to honor the fact that the fight for freedom over the past 400 years has consistently produced art and infused new ideas into American culture.

“We must continue to speak freedom and to remember and not forget that along this freedom journey an art was created. Music, visual, performing, dance, theater — in spite of it all, we created,” says Pannell.

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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