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SunSpots: Plug In to Black:Unplugged!

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Plug In to Music and the Mission of Little Black Pearl

On Friday, December 16th, Little Black Pearl ("LBP") kicked off its Black:Unplugged series with Dr. Angela Davis, Dianne Reeves, Teri Lyne Carrington, Nona Hendryx and Tia Fuller.  Black:Unplugged provides an exclusive opportunity for 300 Black Card Members to experience a series of intimate, quarterly music performances.  But, more importantly, Black:Unplugged seeks to plug these card-carrying members in to LBP's mission by connecting them to its programs, school and community in an intimate way - sort of as good will ambassadors.

OLS Student Performers Student Performers

The program opened with performances by students of the Options Laboratory School ("OLS"), which is a charter school that LBP launched on August 13, 2011 with 175 Chicago-wide students.  Black Card Members were entertained with poetry by two students and a live musical performance of original work by a complete band, including vocalists (with the support of Bethany Pickens, a musical instructor at OLS).  It was a joy to see these talented students perform before an incredibly supportive audience. 

Student Artwork

OLS seeks to engage students who haven't performed well in traditional schools, but have expressed an interest in arts and technology.  Monica Haslip, LBP founder, said that during this first year, OLS staff has spent a lot of time "deprogramming" students and gaining their trust.  OLS also uses arts and creativity to inspire students' interest in other core curriculum, for example, understanding the science behind glass-blowing.  (Student-created glass art was prominently displayed on each table.)  Earlier on Friday, the OLS students were treated to classes and discussion led by Angela Davis, Dianne Reeves and Tia Fuller, who remarked that she was surprised by the students' intensity and focused questions.

Dianne Reeves Dianne Reeves

Dianne's performance was brilliant, showcasing powerhouse vocals, graceful range and skilled improvisational scatting and interaction with Tia Fuller, on saxophone.  She treated the audience to a nice set of music, including her rendition of I'll be Home for Christmas, which clearly expressed her joy at being able to spend Christmas at home with family this year.  The audience was also thrilled to hear the familiar hit Better Days.  Teri Lyne Carrington, LBP board member and curator and musical director of the Black:Unplugged series, held the beat down with her usual aplomb.

Dr. Angela Davis Dr. Angela Davis

It was awe-inspiring to see human rights activist, Dr. Angela Davis, gracefully aged, poised and poetic.  Backed by the band, she turned discourse to poetry as she spoke at length on the prison system, incarceration rates, justice and respect for Mother Nature.  Finally, Nona Hendryx, LBP board member and hostess for the evening, joined in on the action and closed it out with Strange Fruit.  What a wonderful opportunity to experience such talent in an intimate, creative space - the entire evening was delightful!

Nona Hendryx, Monica Haslip & Teri Lyne Carrington Nona Hendryx, Monica Haslip & Teri Lyne Carrington

According to Monica Haslip, LBP has traditionally used word of mouth to market its events, sort of a grass roots effort.  Similarly, Black:Unplugged does not have the advantage of huge financial resources to pull off this extraordinary series.  Rather, LBP has leveraged the relationships of its board members, Nona Hendryx and Teri Lyne Carrington.  Their infectious passion for the organization has ignited the passion of prominent artists and humanitarians, who have been happy to lend their talent and celebrity in support of LBP's mission.

Black Card Membership has its privileges!  Only 300 memberships will be issued and members, exclusively, are invited to attend upcoming Black:Unplugged performances by George Duke and Lizz Wright (March 16th), Lalah Hathaway and Rahsaan Patterson (June 9th) and VIP seating at special PearlFest performance this summer!  Membership payments ($150-$1,000 for individual, premiere individual, family or corporate) support LBP afterschool and summer programming for youth.

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Images by Farrad Ali Photography

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