Celebrating Black History Month through music

Tommie Ward, left, and Marcelo Del Valle dance to "Rockin' Robin" during the "Celebrating Black History Month Through Music Performance" event held at the Bella Vida Senior Center on Friday, February 21, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal
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To celebrate Black History Month, seniors at Bella Vida senior center learned about African-American history through music. 

Seniors enjoyed soul food cuisine while musicians performed gospel, ragtime, jazz, swing and more. Each genre presented came directly from African-American cultural roots and has influenced music. 

Following the performances and lunch, seniors were invited to attend a lecture led by John Swinford, the center’s performing arts coordinator.  In the lecture, Swinford taught African-American history through different music genres that were created over the past three centuries. 

Musicians Barbara Jones, center, and Randy Ellis perform “Mood Indigo” by Duke Ellington during the “Celebrating Black History Month Through Music Performance” event held at the Bella Vida Senior Center on Friday, February 21, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

“I’ve been immersing myself in music since my retirement,” said Swinford. “February is African-American history month and the senior center reached out to me to do something for the holiday since I’ve done a presentation on African-American literature in the past.” 

Starting from the roots of African-American music beginning on plantations in the south with spiritual and gospel music, Swinford was able to transition from there to modern-day rap and hip-hop. 

Swinford took seniors through the 18th, 19th and early, mid and late 20th-century genres that were created by African-Americans. 

As he went through the genres, he played snippets of songs from the eras. The lecture quickly transformed into a makeshift jam session among the seniors. 

John Swinford presents a lecture entitled “The History of African-American Music” after performing during the “Celebrating Black History Month Through Music Performance” event held at the Bella Vida Senior Center on Friday, February 21, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

Seniors sang along and danced in their seats. While the music played, seniors shared how some songs reminded them of their childhood. A senior in attendance even recalled living across the street from the famous jazz and swing singer Ethel Waters, when she was younger.

During each song, Swinford highlighted different parts that were influenced by genres prior. Overall, the presentation demonstrated how African-American genres have evolved over the centuries. 

“It gave us a taste of how African-American music has influenced music today and how we got here,” said Rita Rhea-Perry,  a senior at the center.

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