On the evening of February 21 in Walker Auditorium, a packed house was treated to a performance of music and theater called “Of Ebony Embers: Vignettes of the Harlem Renaissance.” The show is a mix of music and theater that celebrates the lives of great African-American poets such as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Claude Mckay.
The musicians comprising the core ensemble are Ju Young Lee on cello, Hugh Hinton on piano and Michael Parola on percussion. Actor Dracyn Blount assumed the roles of the poets. Blount has appeared in live theater, film and TV, such as on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” His performance reflected his immense experience and professionalism. He conveyed different personalities for each as he recited and acted out monologues. Blount managed to create unique mannerisms for each character so that each were highly distinguishable.
Additionally, the performance pays homage to some of the great jazz musicians of the time. The musical score includes works by Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, Billy Strayhorn, Thelonious and Charles Mingus.
Blount took the lead for the majority of the performance and kept the narrative moving forward. For portions of the performance, Blount stepped off stage and allowed the trio to entertain the crowd with melodies.
If a melodic tune wasn’t being played while Blount spoke, Parola would often strike the xylophone to create a dream-like effect. At other times, the trio played upbeat jazz tunes while Blount spoke on the beat with stellar cadence.
While the musical aspect was prominent, the heart of the performance lies in the story of the Harlem Renaissance. Dee Dube, (’18) commented on the performance afterwards: “Of Ebony Embers put a lot of the poetry I’ve studied in the English program into a larger context for me. Experiencing a performance of the lives of authors at the time with authentic jazz music playing in the background transported me to the Harlem Renaissance.”
The entirety of the hour and fifteen-minute-long performance was active. If Blount wasn’t speaking, the band was playing and vice versa. This made the performance roll along quickly until it’s conclusion.