When Robbie Dancy, Utica’s regular Juneteenth planner told me it was cancelled I didn’t want that to happen. I figured we had lost enough during the pandemic lockdown and Black folks, especially hard hit, could use some enjoyment.
I called my longtime friend and musical collaborator, Hamilton College’s Doctor Michael Woods what he thought about getting a crew of artists together and record some tunes. Put some Juneteenth messaging around it and get it on the air. He thought it was a great idea and suggested that the tunes we chose should be comforting, supportive, healing, loving. I agreed.
Next, I had to enroll my closest ally, Theresa Mancuso, Office Manager of For The Good, Inc. and Phoenix Radio, 95.5FM The Heat. For every professional theatrical or musical production is an enormous coordinated behind the scenes effort. It requires focus and top administrative skill with the ability to deliver specific information at a moment’s notice. I knew Lady T and I could make it happen.
Steve McMurray of WKTV was the man who made it happen. He said yes to the Juneteenth show. It was on.
I learned right out of college when I worked production for three different Broadway shows that shows could be put together in 8 weeks. I figured with the right players we could put a show together in 6 weeks. In NYC I saw Black folks performing at a world-class level, on time, with perfection and nailing it. That was the mark to hit.
I knew that top-notch performer TK Howard was the next person to get on board. He loved the concept, would be an anchor, and was pivotal in pulling in the singers we wanted and selecting the songs. He and Lady T and I spent hours in the office choosing songs, contacting artists, and planning the program.
Then George Floyd was killed and there was a tidal shift in energy. We had to rework, rethink our delivery. The fact that initially, the project was Juneteenth and freedom, we knew we had to new songs with special intention. for the current undeniable reality.
Rick Lewis is the top Black video and media operative in Upstate New York and manages the Rome Capitol Theatre. We were going to need a venue to shoot and record so it was a natural. The only thing was that we had so little time to produce a superior product. That’s when my friend Mark Bolos told me of Rob Capezzano and his Silver City Recording. We needed someone to record the music while Rick captured the video.
All the while sponsors were being sought to make it all possible. Among the artists, we were sure to only include the best talent I had already worked with. We didn’t want any surprises. No babies. No prima donnas. We wanted performers who would come in and handle their business. Myself, TK, Tracy Bowens, Astena Smith, Delmarshia Curry, Theresa Mancuso, and Gary Thornton fit the bill and knocked it out of the box.
Production week consisted of one rehearsal at the offices of For The Good, Inc. We were socially distancing and the singers and musicians were meeting for the first time. All of us singers had been working on our music individually but, after that one rehearsal, the next two days were recording at the Capitol.
There is a resident PA in the office so we had the room, multiple mics, and amplification to get a feel for what we were coming together to do. It was an aggressive schedule but the energy was good and our country and our world kept driving the passion behind all of the songs. We were there to deliver a message and we all knew it.
The musicians had never played together and things were awkward from time to time when singers were adapting their versions of songs for the musicians. Keys, instrumentation, timings, stripped-down versions, who was gonna back up who and on what tunes? It was a lot but the level of professionalism and talent with our chosen musicians, Doc Woods, Ed Crowder on piano, Mike Tebo on guitar, and Steve Falvo on drums gave everyone confidence that they would be the wind beneath our wings.
There was one other performer who joined us, Oneida Wolf clan member, Joanne Shenandoah who is also a Grammy Award winner and probably the most famous Native American singer-songwriter in the world. With the intention of demonstrating to our Juneteenth viewers that multiculturalism is precious my dear friend joined us and it was a perfect message.
The show aired 7PM on WKTV CBS on June 13 on and June 19th and was a stunning success.
Sponsorship money made this awesome production possible and raised money for For The Good. The Bank of Utica and Murphy Excavating were the first monies to come through. Their confidence and support for the project were and are so greatly appreciated.
Hopes are that the success of this project will continue to grow and continue to bring in needed revenues to fund the important programs underway with FTG, to provide for the needs of Utica’s underserved Black community. the Community Gardens and the Virtual Study Buddy Club.
Now you can now see the show at forthegoodinc.org and click on Juneteenth and continue the fundraiser for the agency, which is Utica’s only Black-led not for profit equipped to provide community development programming for the City of Utica. Please support us.