A stirring musical program at one of the District of Columbia’s signature churches started a week-long set of activities honoring the grand opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.


The opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. was accompanied by a series of high profile events. (AFRO File Photo)

An estimated 500 people packed the Shiloh Baptist Church on Sept. 18. They were treated to songs performed by a 200-member community choir and vocalists, and dramatic renditions from dancers and actors about the journey of Black people in the U.S. from the 1600s Africa era to slavery to the Civil War and the present. The event, “A Historical Odyssey: From the Cradle to Liberation,” was sponsored by the D.C. Host Committee, which is coordinating city activities around the Sept. 24 formal opening of the museum.

Janice Ferebee, a museum docent, noted the appropriateness of the time of its opening in addition to the theme of the musical tribute. “We are living in a time where this museum will open with America’s first Black president in the White House and possibly its first female president on the way,” Ferebee said.

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush, who signed the legislation which authorized the museum, and former first lady Laura Bush, U.S. Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, and U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) are among the luminaries that will be present at the opening ceremony. President Obama is expected to give remarks.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) will likely represent the city at the opening ceremony and said she is excited about the buzz it is generating for the city throughout the world. “We think that the interest in the museum is so high that it will rival the first inauguration of President Obama in 2009,” the mayor told the {AFRO}. “There are a lot of activities taking place throughout the city during that week and we are excited about that. I will also welcome visitors at a reception in the John A. Wilson Building Friday evening.”

Bowser is the official host at a reception in honor of the museum at the African American Civil War Memorial (AACWM) on Sept. 22 that is spearheaded by the D.C. Host Committee. The committee is set to co-sponsor a “D.C. Statehood Reception” from 6-8 p.m. Sept. 21 at the John A. Wilson Building, with Stand Up! for Democracy, the D.C. Statehood Green Party, D.C. Black History Celebration Committee, and D.C. for Democracy, as supporters.

There will be watch parties throughout the city on that day at venues, including the Civil War museum, Ben’s Chili Bowl’s U Street location, the Florida Avenue Grill, and Asbury United Methodist Church. Recently, the D.C. Public Library confirmed it will host watch parties at its Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library headquarters in its Black Studies Center and at its Bellevue/William O. Lockridge, Cleveland Park, Deanwood, and Francis A. Gregory branches, starting at 10 a.m.

The musical tribute was divided into three segments, known as periods. Period One focused on the musical and cultural aspects of West Africans before the start of the slave trade. A troupe of young dancers, four on stilts, danced to and sang Nigerian and West African songs while the choir served as backup support.

Period Two emphasized the Middle Passage, the transporting of slaves aboard ships and the slave experience in America. There were tunes from the Gullah, an African-oriented group that are direct descendants of slaves that resided on the coast of South Carolina for centuries, with soloists singing such noted songs as “Before I’d Be a Slave” and the choir belted out “Soon-ah Will Be Done.”

Period Three was about the trials and tribulations of Blacks after the Civil War to the present day, with the high point the singing the “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” rendition written by internationally noted musical director Roland Carter.

The musical tribute is the brainchild of Charles “Chuck” Hicks, director of the D.C. Black History Celebration Committee, and the program was managed by Thomas Dixon Tyler and Steven Allen. Hicks said it was “only right” for the District to have significant activities regarding the opening of the museum and that a musical tribute was in order. “With this being the host city, we had to do something,” he said.