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Have a Listen

By February 27, 2019 3 Comments
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It doesn’t seem right that Black History month is already ending. 28 days is not near long enough–so I’m going to suggest a practical way to extend it through the whole year: music.

Three “must-listens”:

The War and Treaty: Listening to the powerhouse duo of Michael and Tanya Trotter is CHURCH. This past weekend, hundreds of Grand Rapidians braved the “cyclone bomb” to see their absolutely electric live show downtown. You knew the night was special when after only the 3rd song, the staid Midwestern audience rose in a spontaneous standing ovation that stopped the show for a good number of minutes. It was not the last standing ovation of the night. Mixing Americana and blues and funk and rock and gospel and more, the War and Treaty is a joyous distillation of American music itself. With an inspiring backstory (visit the link above for their complete bio), the couple gives one of the best lives shows I’ve ever seen. And their first full-length album (they had an EP earlier), produced by legendary producer/musician Buddy Miller, dropped last September straight into critical acclaim and popular approbation. Their talent demands the widest possible audience. It’s nice to see them beginning to get it.

Rhiannon Giddens: Rhiannon Giddens doesn’t just sing and play banjo and fiddle (and other things, too) at the highest level–she is a true scholar of the music she performs. Classically trained, Giddens has recorded in all kinds of genres, but has turned increasingly in recent years–whether solo or with The Carolina Chocolate Drops–to beautiful, searing explorations of African American history and culture. Seeing her in concert is like the very best lecture and the most amazing musicianship all in one. Giddens truly lives up to the word “genius,” as evidence by her 2017 MacArthur Fellowship award–researching, reclaiming, and preserving the stories, techniques, and traditions of those who have gone before her. For example on Freedom’s Highway, she traces African American history from its colonial roots to its modern expressions (the link below provides some background). Her most recent project–released last Friday by the National Museum of African American History and Culture–sees Giddens joining together with three other African American women artists in a super group called Our Native Daughters. She “delights and instructs” in all the best ways.

Finally, just in time for Mardi Gras, New Orleans’ own Trombone Shorty (stage name of the talented Troy Andrews). A crazy talented instrumentalist and vocalist, Shorty is the very thing for the winter blues. Have a listen– whether to his Tiny Desk concert or one of my favorites from his album, Hurricane Season–and then tell me there wasn’t a little chair-dancing in your morning. Bring on Fat Tuesday.

Jennifer L. Holberg

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). I also do various administrative things across campus. As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids. I count myself rich in friends and family. I enjoy kayaking and hiking. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I have a bumper sticker on my car that says: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” Which is true.


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