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Hudson Valley Press

July 30th, 2014

Newburgh Jazz Series is Still Going Strong

Paula Ralph-Birkett of Tyrone Birkett Emancipation, performs one of the groups’ unique, uplifting melodies at last Wednesday’s Jazz Series at Thomas Bull Memorial Parks’ Arboretum.

MONTGOMERY- How good is the Newburgh Jazz Series? Just ask long-time Newburgh resident, Pat Youngs, an audience member since its inception nine years ago.

"I look forward the entire winter for these concerts," said a smiling Youngs, as she took in the summer splendor, awaiting the evening’s band. "I love live music, and it’s especially nice how there is a label for each of the nights; it always stays interesting."

That very variety, along with the authentic nature of live music, are just what the concerts’ creator, Aquanetta Wright, "The Ferry Godmother," had in mind when she formed the popular Series nine years ago. After spending her first six years on the Newbugh Waterfront, Wright moved the Jazz Series, along with the added Pop Rock & Doowop Series to Thomas Bull Memorial Parks’ Arboretum. The change of venue has continued to be a prosperous one.

"People love it here; they find it absolutely beautiful," said Wright about the Arboretum’s peaceful, scenic, floral backdrop. "The transition has not been as difficult as we thought it would be; in fact, every week and year we grow."

That growth was evident last week when a Tuesday Orange County Pop Rock & Doowop show drew a crowd of 300 guests. Equipped with lawnchairs, beverages and refreshments, the packed audience filled the entire yarded area.

The very next night, Wednesday, it was time for some Jazz, and the Tyrone Birkett Emancipation group definitely delivered. Tyrone, along with his wife, singer Paula Ralph-Birkett, and two other band members transform 1800 Century negro freedom spirituals into 21st Century upbeat melodies, filled with jazz sensibilities with soul and gospel celebration. With the Hudson Valley serving as one of the main arteries of the Underground Railroad, assisting slaves in their treks from Orange County (Goshen/Chester/Newburgh) up to Dutchess (Beacon), it seemed only appropriate for Wright to slate the New York city-based Emancipation contingent into her Summer Jazz schedule.

"The connection is how this group updates freedom songs and the many types of peoples and their struggles," pointed out Wright. "Orange and Dutchess Counties were definitely a very big part of all that."

For Africans, who were new to Americas, spirituals relayed: justice, celebration, emotions and even passed on the "Secret Code," tipping off slavery transport to nearby assistants. Tyrone Birkett Emancipation, together since 2010, hopes to get all that depth and much more across in their music. They couldn’t have been happier with their inaugural Arboretum reception.

"It was a wonderful audience, who was very responsive to the music; it was a great setting that fit our songs perfectly," said Tyrone, a saxophonist and composer. "We try to get people uplifted, to believe in themselves, and to counteract the negative energy of a lot of bad things going on, keeping hope alive and people encouraged."

Sounds a great deal like what Wright is accomplishing.

To learn more about the summer (and fall) concerts being held by "Ferry Godmother Productions," log on to: or call (225) D0-Magic.

5 / 5 (4 Votes)

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