Because February is all about love, and it is also Black History Month, this month’s column is focusing on all of the love that is expressed in our communities’ art forms. First, let’s begin with the notable talents of some of our African American neighbors.
Norm Lewis, a graduate of Edgewater High School, has had a successful Broadway and film career. He was the first African-American to be cast as the Phantom on Broadway. Last Easter he was the chief Pharisee in NBC’s live production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” with John Legend.
Sisaundra Lewis (no relation), a local songbird, has toured with Celine Dion as vocal director, and was a vocalist and duet partner with Grammy and Oscar winner Peabo Bryson. Locals remember her outstanding season on The Voice. She sang the National Anthem when the Dr. Phillips Center opened and sang live on stage last spring for the Orlando Ballet. Ms. Lewis is the founder of Find Your Voice, a mentorship/leadership program for girls in 12 Orange County schools.
Rudolph Cleare is a Catholic priest whose calling was to preserve one of the few truly American Art forms, the Negro Spiritual. Born out of slavery, these spirituals have been an inspiration for many young vocal students who want to learn about their heritage. On Jan. 18, there was a concert at Mt. Zion Missionary
Baptist Church. For more information contact the Negro Spiritual Foundation’s director, Damon Dandridge.
There are so many others, like Ericka Dunlap, who sang her way from Miss Orlando and Miss City Beautiful to become the first black Miss Florida and then the 2003 Miss America. German Lemus is an artist who manages The Cultural Xchange Gallery and Marketplace and had murals painted all over our City Beautiful. The Bronze Kingdom is a gallery of rare African sculpture that can be seen represented throughout our city. Then there is Jeffery Redding who was featured in our December issue and has been nominated for this year’s Grammy Award. Amaya Joseph (Clara in this year’s Nutcracker) and David Wright are both dancers with the Orlando Ballet. And remember last month’s “People of O-Town”? Jonathan Kioko brings his sculpted stone art and vision to Lake Eola’s Farmer’s Market. Check out our Facebook page to see how we can add to this list on social media.
Lovin’ our children
Every first Thursday of the month, there is a celebration at the Orlando Museum of Art where local artists have an opportunity to show their work. The February theme is all about children, whether they are in the backyard or on the other side of the planet. The Orlando Symphonic Youth Orchestra and the Orlando Children’s Chorus will be performing, as well as Celtic Dancers. Members of the Orlando Ballet’s School and representatives from the Shakes will be there as well. First Thursdays are family-friendly events, happening this month on Feb. 7 from 6-9 p.m. With 1st Thursday admission you also get to tour the entire museum, including the new Louis Dewis exhibit.
Lovin’ the fine arts
The Orlando Ballet Company is offering a treat for Valentine’s weekend. “Bailamos” is a vibrant evening of passion with a Latin flair. The Opera Orlando Company is offering a comic love story with performances of “The Barber of Seville” this month. The Orlando Philharmonic also celebrates children with their Symphony Storytime series at the Plaza. On Feb. 9 and 12, it is about “Ferdinand the Bull.” The Orlando Museum of Art has opened a new exhibit, “Louis Dewis: A Belgian Post-Impressionist” through May. And of course, there are still amazing performances at the Mad Cow Theater and the Dr. Phillips Center and Central Florida Community Arts. As Donna Dowless, Orlando’s Ambassador of Love often says, “Art on.” Have a month full of love and kindness, expressing the loving neighbor you are.