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Hudson Valley Press

March 1st, 2017

13th Annual Celebration Honors Black History

Top: Opening scene from thirteenth annual Black History Month Celebration held at St. John’s Lutheran Church on Saturday, Feb. 25. Goldee Greene opens the show as Elizabeth Greenfield arriving to Great Britain for the first time. Bottom: Raphael Figueroa begins the show with an upbeat, solo performance. The Black History Month Celebration was held St. John’s Lutheran Church, on Saturday, Feb. 25.
By Liz Gaschler

POUGHKEEPSIE - The riveting soprano tones of opera music filled the room of St. John’s Lutheran Church in a celebration of Black History Month on Saturday.

The thirteenth annual celebration, hosted by Nubian Directions II – a non-profit technology resource center for youth – was inspired by the classical music innovators of the 19th century.

An awe-inspiring historical performance, Dear Lizzie, Selika and Sissieretta, was written and led by classical musician, singer and actress, Goldee Greene. Split into three acts, the show tributes the years of adversity African American women faced from the 1800s to the 1930s.

“I feel proud to stand on the shoulders of these past women,” Greene said.

Accompanied by instrumentalists Raphael Figueroa and Tom McCoy, Greene paired the music once performed by the prima donnas of the past, with short scenes of pivoting moments they endured.

Elizabeth Greenfield, The Black Swan, was born into slavery in 1819. She received minimal musical training early in life and willfully made it to the Buckingham Palace to perform for Queen Victoria under the banner of abolishment.

Marie Selika Williams was born into slavery in 1849. Inspired by her predecessor, Greenfield, she became the first African-American woman to sing opera in the White House for President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1878.

Matilda Sissierreta Jones born in 1868, began her career in the church choir. She was the first African-American woman to perform at Carnegie Hall. She soon performed at Madison Square Garden, Boston’s Music Hall, the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the White House. Jones sang for four consecutive presidents.

The performance presented history as an inspiration. Although the odds were against these brave woman, they were able to overcome adversity and receive the help they deserved in order to pursue their passion during a divided time.

Sarah Moore, vice-president of Nubian Directions II, has organized all thirteen celebrations. Some of which included discussions about African American history in Rhinebeck from speakers at Vassar College and special guests discussing African drum dancing and its history.

“I feel it is my duty to give knowledge back to the community in which I live,” Moore said.

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