Next week’s MIX: Amplify is inspired by social justice in art and music, highlighted in a new exhibition at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The virtual MIX on Friday, October 2, from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. will feature a live DJ set from Vikter Duplaix, a showcase of street dance from choreographer Samuel McIntosh of 10K Movement, and video art by Wil Frierson.
Art and music always reflect the times, and in response to the global protests following the killing of George Floyd, the Rock Hall organized It’s Been Said All Along: Voices of Rage, Hope & Empowerment. This exhibition features Hall of Fame inductees from Public Enemy to Nina Simone whose music communicated visions of hope for a just society. Similarly, artists in the CMA’s collection such as Augusta Savage, Norman Lewis, Jacob Lawrence, and Elizabeth Catlett used visual art to promote real change in the face of inequality. MIX: Amplify creates an opportunity for us to find hope, power, and inspiration in the trailblazers who came before us.
CMA director of community programs Deidre McPherson discussed these themes with Rock Hall vice president and chief curator Nwaka Onwusa.
DM: Let’s start by talking about this moment. What did it take for us to get here and for you to curate this exhibition?
NO: I’m very excited about how everything has collided and come together — not only with this exhibit but with both our institutions coming together in a time where unity and peace and equity definitely matter.
DM: Thank you, I couldn’t agree more!
NO: Putting this exhibition together was definitely inspired by messages that, grabbing the theme of this MIX program, “amplify.” Art and music go hand in hand. This was just a perfect opportunity for us to shine a light on the role that music and art have played in reflecting the times.
DM: What’s the key message you want us to take from the exhibition?
NO: It’s called It’s Been Said All Along Voices of Rage, Hope & Empowerment. I want people to feel hope when they leave and to definitely feel empowerment. The title obviously is strategic. I feel like it’s a part of the healing process. You definitely are enraged first, and then you experience these emotions, but I want people to know that it’s OK to be enraged and then come out of that rage and find hope as the silver lining. We use music as the driving vehicle to tell this narrative and use photography and art with the CMA to further express these messages that came through the music.
This exhibit was inspired by these artists and their long journey of fighting for equality. Our new civil rights movement of 2020, this health crisis, this humanity crisis that we’re going through — we felt at the Rock Hall that it was time to really elevate these stories. This is not a new message. We’ve been singing about love, we’ve been singing about being Black and proud, we’ve been singing that the revolution will not be televised and that you need to go beyond your screen and educate yourself. We are standing on the shoulders of folks who are no longer with us who had even fewer resources, no support, major inequalities, and hurdles that they were jumping through. And they still made music and still performed at such a high level.
You look at someone like Nat King Cole, who is truly revered and on the same pedestal as Frank Sinatra. Nat King Cole had the same level of talent as a Frank Sinatra but had so many more hurdles. He would perform in Vegas and wouldn’t be able to stay at the Copacabana. He had to stay 20 miles outside of town because he was Black. Unacceptable. You know, Billie Holiday was handcuffed to her bed as she died because of her performance and vocality of speaking and talking about strange fruit. And Nina Simone — the list truly goes on and on and on. This exhibition is a sampling of the many voices of rage, hope, and empowerment, but it’s really to say, “We’ve been saying this all along.”
It’s easy to look at what’s happening in the world right now and see it as very dismal. Things are chaotic. People are losing their lives, their jobs. It’s really tough right now, and this exhibition reflects on the power of music. Charlie Parker is an inspiration to Basquiat, and we wouldn’t have these great paintings without the music that Basquiat listened to.
The photography in the exhibition is another reason why I’m excited that we are collaborating with the CMA. It includes work from very iconic and prolific Black photographers, including Bruce Talamon and the great Chuck Stewart who went to Ohio University and was the first Black student in their photography department. He took the images of Nat King Cole and Gil Scott-Heron in the exhibition. He photographed Nina Simone’s first album cover. He’s shot over 2,500 album covers, not just in Black music but all across the music industry. We are shining a light on some of these names you wouldn’t normally hear. We know about Gordon Parks, and we talk about Howard Bingham, but this was a great time to open up that door. There are so many talented artists that are out there, and it’s not because they’re Black. They’re talented, so let’s open up the door.
DM: What’s inspiring you as you move forward?
NO: I am continuing to find these messages in the music, and not just in your usual suspects. I don’t know what God and the universe is going to do later in the next exhibit calendar, but I’m really inspired to make sure that our stories continue to be diverse. Period. The opportunity for the Rock Hall to collaborate with the CMA and vice versa makes me hopeful. The artists and the people who have contributed to MIX: Amplify have me hopeful for the future and what we hope to continue to do. I’m excited to continue to learn about what this beautiful city has to offer. “The Land” is filled with amazing talent across the board, and this collaboration allows us to reinforce that. We can do more when we do it together.
Visit www.cma.org/mix to get ready for the party. You can find a Spotify music playlist, cocktail recipes, a list of restaurant recommendations for ordering takeout, thematic virtual Zoom backgrounds to download, and more.