The Hollywood Bowl Goes Big With Televised Juneteenth Celebration "You will be someone's ancestor. Act accordingly."
LOS ANGELES, CA- It took decades of steady lobbying, but on June 15, 2021, the Congressional Black Caucus got the Senate to unanimously pass the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act; a federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. While communities and states have observed June 19th, 1865 (the date on which General Order No. 3 was delivered… two-and-a-half years after the original issuance of the Emcaiption Proclamation to the state of Texas) as early as 1866, its recognition as a federal holiday- the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was adopted in 1983- is a long-overdue gesture to acknowledging the end of slavery and celebrating Black independence.
Juneteenth was celebrated around the country, but perhaps one of the biggest celebrations happened in the heart of Los Angeles, on the legendary stage of the Hollywood Bowl. A joint effort by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Live Nation, sponsored by 102.3FM KJLH, “JUNETEENTH: A Global Celebration for Freedom” put together a full day’s worth of music performances with a line-up filled with unparalleled talent including the likes of Khalid, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Roots, Chaka Khan, Lucky Daye, Robert Glasper, Billy Porter, Mary Mary, Anthony Hamilton, Michelle Williams, Mickey Guyton, the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, and more. There were also special appearances, both live and pre-recorded, by Michelle Obama, Leslie Jones, Jill Scott, Amanda Seales, Gabourey Sidibe, Raven-Symoné, Susan Kelechi Watson, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and more. There was also a special dance presentation by the Debbie Allen Dance Academy accompanied by the ReCollective Orchestra. The event was also broadcast live on CNN and hosted by anchor Don Lemon.
As soon as the doors opened at 3pm, patrons settled in and enjoyed picnicking under the pleasant summer sun. The musical performances started off with a bang, with Yolanda Adams performing (via a pre-recorded tape) “Life Every Voice and Sing”, a hymn deemed the “Negro national anthem”, and Chaka Khan performing s short medley which included her hits “Tell Me Something Good” and “Aint Nobody”.
The pace of the program was brisk and efficient, with recording artists performing no more than 1-3 songs each, which kept the audience on their toes. If you had to travel from your seats to the restroom, odds are you would have missed most, if not all, or any particular performance.
Up-and-coming artists like Lucky Daye and Mickey Guyton included covers of classic R&B standards with Lucky performing the Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell song “You’re All I Need” with his hit “Over” and Mickey Marvin’s “What’s Going On” with the original song “Black Like Me”. Other musical performances included D Smoke (“Shine”), The Roots (“Act Too” & “You Got Me”), Khalid (“Talk”), Billy Porter (“Children”), Bell Biv Devoe (“Thought It Was Me” & “Poison”), Ne-Yo (“Miss Independent”, “Because Of You” & “Give Me Everything”), Earth Wind & Fire (“Fantasy”, “Groove Tonight” & “September”) and a gospel performance by Mary Mary, Anthony Hamilton & Michelle Williams.
But perhaps the most impactful performances weren’t those that leaned more towards popular music. For the first time ever, the Hollywood Bowl featured a historic performance by The Re-Collective Orchestra. Founded in 2018 “to raise the visibility of black classical musicians and champion the work of black artists”, The Re-Collective Orchestra led by Thomas Wilkins and Derrick Hodge, performed the piece “Whippoorwill’s Shoes” by William Grant Still, who, in 1936, became the first African American to conduct a major American orchestra… and at the Hollywood Bowl no less. The symbolism in the performing that piece, with that title, was.. for me… particularly strong.
The most impactful moment of the day for me was Amir Sulaiman performing his poem “Enoch’s Meditation”. Standing stoically, backed by the lush sounds of The Re-Collective Orchestra, and forcefully driving home the mantra, “You will be someone’s ancestor. Act accordingly”, Amir acknowledged the past, but emphasized the greater importance of acting in the present to impact the future. Of course, this message carried great weight given the occasion, but this is such a universal message, that it even resonates incredibly within my head; the head of an Asian American man.
[Note: If you play the video below, please be cautious of its audio levels when it ends]
Celebrating the date of emancipation, reminding others that there was once a time in history when your neighbor would have been treated like chattel, and showcasing Black creativity in the arts is important, but it is still up to us living in the present to build upon the foundations we have forged to ensure that the history of our nation never steers course and pulls a u-turn. We’ve seen it recently with regards to gun and abortion rights… who’s to say that interracial marriage or even “freedom”… whatever that word means nowadays… is slowly… or suddenly … stripped from us and our neighbors.
Michelle Obama submitted a pre-taped presentation for the event, and she stressed the importance of getting out and voting. I’m not going to lie, I purposefully looked around to see who was paying attention and what the general reaction was… and it was really no surprise to find only half the audience paying attention to the Bowl’s LED screens. After all, we’ve all been asked whether we are registered to vote… Probably more than a dozen times… over the past couple of years. The reminders are probably falling on some deaf ears these days. I get it.
But I hope that those who weren’t paying attention, are actually registered to vote. In fact, that is the only way you can at least try to ensure your future. You don’t like the way laws are made? Vote in the right politicians. You feeling uncomfortable about the Supreme Court overturning a long-standing precedent? Well, you gotta vote… and convince everyone else to vote… for the presidential candidate who’ll nominate those candidates whose ideology matches yours. You need to take action now to at least TRY to ensure your future. After all, if you don’t do anything what’ll your lienage say about you? You will be someone’s ancestor. Act accordingly.