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Black Music City honors a cultural heritage in Philly, with new works

Joseph V. Labolito
Temple University

Fareed Simpson-Hankins, a jazz trumpeter born and raised in Philadelphia, has been a beneficiary of this city's cultural resources: mentorship from Byard Lancaster and others; musical immersion at Shiloh Temple Church of God in Christ; formal training from Temple's Boyer College of Music and Dance.

Now Simpson-Hankins is the recipient of funding that helped him shine a light on Philly's Black music heritage, as one of the 2023 grantees of Black Music City, a collaboration between WRTI, WXPN and REC Philly, which has returned for a third year.

The 30 grantees in the program's 2023 class span a range of musicians, visual artists and other creative individuals. They'll be celebrated at the Black Music City Showcase, a free event this Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. at World Cafe Live. Hosted by Seraiah Nicole, the showcase will feature a gallery viewing of artworks and other media produced by grantees, as well as a selection of grant-supported performance projects, by dancer-choreographer Kiana Williams and musicians Zeek Burse, Julia Pratt & Melvin Darrell, and Badd Kitti.

Conceived in Dec. 2020, Black Music City has a stated aim of offering local Black artists, musicians and other creatives the financial and promotional support to develop new work that recognizes and honors the legacy of Black music in Philadelphia.

WRTI general manager Bill Johnson speaking at the 2023 Arts and Business Council Awards, on behalf of Black Music City.
Jerry Buckley
WRTI general manager Bill Johnson speaking at the 2023 Arts and Business Council Awards, on behalf of Black Music City.

"Black Music City is an opportunity to demonstrate how WRTI makes a difference on the ground as well as on the air," says Bill Johnson, the general manager of WRTI. "Each grant directly supports an artist so that they can continue practicing their craft in tribute to Philadelphia's rich Black music heritage."

On May 23, Black Music City was honored by The Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia at the2023 Arts + Business Council Awards, celebrating projects that demonstrate impactful collaborations between the local arts and business sectors. (Simpson-Hankins performed at the ceremony.)

In its inaugural year, Black Music City awarded $48,000 in grants to 23 local Black creatives. The amount increased to $100,000 in 2022, across 40 recipients. This year's class of 30 grantees received a total of $125,000, in individual grants of $2,000 to $5,000. The works created with this support span live and recorded music as well as dance, poetry, film and video, painting, photography, fashion and apparel, handcrafted porcelain dolls, and a graphic novel.

The Black Music City Showcase takes place on Sunday, June 11 at World Cafe Live. Registration is suggested but not required.

Nate Chinen has been writing about music for more than 25 years. He spent a dozen of them working as a critic for The New York Times, and helmed a long-running column for JazzTimes. As Editorial Director at WRTI, he oversees a range of classical and jazz coverage, and contributes regularly to NPR.