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WRTI honors Black History Month with a balance of past and present

Nasir Dickerson on kora (right) with Jojo Streater on trumpet in WRTI's studio on Dec. 8, 2022.
Joseph V. Labolito
Temple University
Nasir Dickerson on kora (right) with Jojo Streater on trumpet in WRTI's studio on Dec. 8, 2022.

Sankofa is a word that originates among the Akan people, who historically migrated from Ghana and now make up the largest ethnic group on the Ivory Coast. While its literal translation is "to retrieve," the word carries a message from an Akan proverb: Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi: “It is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot.”

That practice — drawing from the past to guide our progress into the future — has become a guiding light throughout the African diaspora and Black culture. It's a concept that aligns with our mission at WRTI, whether we're honoring historical figures like Florence Price or contemporary artists like Immanuel Wilkins. So this Black History Month, sankofa is our watchword. Here's what we'll be doing to heed the call.

This month, the Toll Brothers Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network combs The Met Opera archives for its Saturday matinee broadcasts. The first archival gem is a 1973 production of Verdi's Macbeth, with soprano Martina Arroyo in a principal role as Lady Macbeth. Mike Bolton has the story.

Sankofa Sounds is the name of a jazz series we'll be featuring all month long, with a new video posting every Monday morning. Curated by J. Michael Harrison, it will feature in-studio performances by some of the leading artists on the Philadelphia scene, both established and emerging: we'll start with saxophonist Nasir Dickerson and his band, followed in successive weeks by percussionist Shakoor Hakeem, electric bassist Anthony Tidd, and drummer Nazir Ebo.

Portrait of Margaret Bonds.
Carl Van Vechten
Michael Ochs Archives/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images
Portrait of Margaret Bonds.

Our Album of the Week reviews will focus on releases by Black composers and instrumentalists, beginning with a new album of choral music by Margaret Bonds, recorded by The Dessoff Choirs. One of those pieces, Credo, is the centerpiece of an Opera Philadelphia concert featuring soprano Brandie Inez Sutton, who recently visited our studio.

Stay tuned for more Albums of the Week, including Catalyst Quartet's Uncovered, featuring music by William Grant Still, George Walker, and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson; a throwback look at Miles Davis' Someday My Prince Will Come, right on time for Valentine's Day; and alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin's vow of resilience, Phoenix.

A few other things to watch for:

  • The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert, featuring Florence Price's Third Symphony
  • The Headhunters: Q&A with Bill Summers and Mike Clark, in advance of their 50th anniversary show at Brooklyn Bowl Philly on Feb. 11
  • Exclusive premieres from Catherine Russell and Christian McBride's New Jawn
  • Davóne Tines: coverage of Recital #1: MASS at the Kimmel Center on Feb. 28

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