A hot summer day in New York City's Central Park is not the backdrop you think of when you consider a journey through the history of Black music in America, but it was the setting that a multitude of those who attended New York's SummerStage concert series on Sunday, August 7th encountered. The crowd was there to bear witness to Igmar Thomas and The Revive Big Band's "A Journey Through The Legacy Of Black Culture," which traversed the musical contributions of African-Americans from the 1800s to present day.
Thomas and the band, who had previously performed the set in Washington, D.C., explored everything from gospel to jazz to blues to rock 'n' roll to soul to hip hop, marking the years and decades by spending time with work from various performers essential to their respective genres. Greats like Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, Ray Charles, John Coltrane and James Brown got their just due as Thomas and the band leaned on the talents of special guests Esperanza Spalding, Bilal and trumpeter Nicholas Payton to bring the multitude of songs to life. While the bigger names were great, especially Esperanza's touching interpretation of Wayne Shorter's "Infant Eyes" and Bilal's blistering take on "Long Tall Sally," it was unbilled Taharqa Patterson who truly stole the show, delivering pitch perfect gospel on "Precious Lord" and doing Ray Charles proud with a rendition of "I Got A Woman" that segued into a bit of Kanye West's "Gold Digger" before he showed out with a James Brown medley that had every one getting up and getting on the good foot.
After a rousing set of performances that included the evening's DJ Raydar Ellis busting a few rhymes in tribute to hip hop and Bilal doing a full-band version of his 2010 single "Levels," the evening ended with featured guests Payton, Bilal and Spalding doing their own rendition of Donny Hathaway's "Someday We'll All Be Free" and a jam session in which Spalding got to do her thing on bass. All in all, it was a memorable night that reminded all in attendance that so much of American culture, especially American music, has been shaped, molded and moved forward by Black culture and it will continue to be so as long as Black Americans keep finding new ways to reinvent the culture and themselves.