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QU celebrates Black History Month with song
The Quinnipiac community was treated to a unique look back on the Harlem Renaissance last week, as the University hosted “Raisin’ Cane,” featuring Elizabeth Van Dyke and
Avery Sharpe. Billed as a “Portrait in Prose, Poetry and Music,” the evening’s reflection was based on a story written by founding Fidelio member Harry Clark.
The program, coupling spoken anecdotes from Van Dyke and music by Sharpe on bass, his brother Kevin Sharpe covering percussion and violinist John Blake, Jr., detailed the social and political changes experienced by African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance.
During the performance, the expressive Van Dyke read excerpts from Jean Toomer’s novel “Cane,” on which Clark said he based the story. Audience members came along on the journey of a black woman (portrayed by Van Dyke) in search of her family’s heritage. In addition to anecdotes from Toomer’s novel, which is credited with initiating the Harlem Renaissance, Van Dyke quoted passages from the poet Langston Hughes, civil rights activist W.E.B DuBois and writer Zora Neale Hurston.
Before the performance, Fidelio’s Clark explained what he hopes the audience would take away from the non-traditional event, adding that he and Sharpe collaborated to create the final product seen at Quinnipiac.
“This is an exciting new venture, but I’ve written the script (not being able to) know what the music was going to be. I entrusted that to Avery Sharpe,” Clark said, telling the audience he found himself tweaking the script in the final hours prior to the show. “I’d like (it) to have a different feel musically,” he said, comparing it to traditional Fidelio performances.
Van Dyke, who boasts a list of acting credentials including appearances on television dramas “Law and Order” and “Third Watch,” and a stint closer to home at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater, was phenomenal in every role she took on in “Cane.” Her versatility with inflection and dialects proved engaging to the audience and fellow performers. The passion with which she commanded the stage conveyed more about the Harlem Renaissance than any history text could have.
The standout of the evening was Blake, whose performance on the violin was enough to wonder if Blake, regarded as one of the world’s best jazz violinists, was playing live or if his beautiful music was pre-recorded.
“Harlem was all jazz-it was an exceptional time,” Van Dyke explained. “(For the) first time in America, it was fun to be a Negro. Harlem was to be the new mecca-the language of Harlem was not alien, it was English.The value of the Renaissance isn’t measured in dollars, but in songs,” she said.