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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Harlem Renaissance plays on in Wisconsin

The Harlem Renaissance happened almost 100 years ago, but it’s impossible not see its influences in modern day art.

Adrienne Danrich sings as part of "An Evening in the Harlem Renaissance." Photo courtesy of Quarterline Design Management.

Though recognized as a milestone in African-American culture, its impact on mainstream society can sometimes be lost in the history books. With the end of Black History Month, the Harlem Renaissance is a perfect example of a period that included a wide variety of people and cultures, yet in most cases is reserved only to be taught for a particular time of year.

“The Harlem Renaissance is still happening in so many ways,” said Adrienne Danrich, a world-class soprano opera singer and creator of the upcoming production, “An Evening in the Harlem Renaissance.”

The show, which is hosted by Next Act Theatre, recounts the historical and artistic accomplishments happening during the 1920s and 1930s in the community of Harlem. Danrich uses photographs and paintings as a backdrop to the music of artists like William Grant Still, Jerome Kern and Kurt Weill, while also incorporating the poetry of Langston Hughes and others.

“I really wanted to have a musical celebration to that era,” Danrich said. “During the Harlem Renaissance, people were trying to find their voice.”

When it first began, the Harlem Renaissance was known as the “New Negro Movement.”  Advocating for racial equality and empowerment in the African-American community, the neighborhood of Harlem and its surrounding communities became a hub for beaming talents and intellectual thoughts, as well as employing the artists and writers of the culture to work towards the greater goal of equality.

Danrich, who also sings in the show, is a professional opera singer from St. Louis. She grew up in the inner city with no exposure to classical music until she was accepted into a performing arts school.  Now, numerous performances later, she uses her influences to write and perform in her own shows.

“An Evening in the Harlem Renaissance” will be Danrich’s third collaboration with Next Act Theatre, the first being a tribute to Paul Robeson in 2009, and then Danrich’s one-woman musical homage, “This Little Light of Mine: The Stories of Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price,” in 2010.

“An Evening in the Harlem Renaissance” actually began as tribute solely to the poet, social activist, novelist, playwright and columnist Langston Hughes, who is probably one of the more well known artists from the era.

Danrich has always wanted to write a show about Hughes and was able to receive permission from Hughes’ estate to use his work, but when the permission conflicted with prior engagements, it gave Danrich the opportunity to broaden the show’s scope.

“The artists of that time have influenced generations,” Danrich said. “We have to have shows like this.”

The first act will focus primarily on theater, poets, artists and composers, while the second act centers on music — like the spirituals many used to express religious and political beliefs and the classical music made by African-Americans — as well as giving a nod to the women who sang at the time.

The Harlem Renaissance encompassed a sense of identity, social change, discovery and artistic flourishing, but there are still people who barely realize its impact.

Danrich hopes “An Evening in the Harlem Renaissance” will not only entertain but also educate those who aren’t fortunate to learn about the period in a class or a textbook.

“The biggest thing I want the audience to know is that this is still relevant,” said Danrich.

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