Jazz bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, classical singer CrisTené Triplet, visual artist Kyra Williams, and singer/bandleader Zeek Burse are among 23 Black Music City Project grant winners, announced Wednesday, who will receive between $1,000 and $3,500 to create new artistic works inspired by Philadelphia’s Black music history.
The project, a collaboration between public radio stations WXPN-FM (88.5) and WRTI-FM (90.1) and creative agency REC Philly, is distributing a total of $48,000 to the grantees, selected from more than 600 applicants.
“Reviewing the submissions was an incredible reminder of the breath and depth of talent we have in our city,” said bassist Gerald Veasley, president of Jazz Philadelphia and a member of the selection committee.
Tacuma, a free jazz player who has worked with Ornette Coleman, will be developing a musical project called Tribute to the Philly Rhythm Kings, in honor of bassist Ronnie Baker, guitarist Norman Harris, and drummer Earl Young as early architects of the Sound of Philadelphia.
They made their mark as the rhythm section that played on songs by Barbara Mason and the Intruders, recorded at Frank Virtue’s studio in the 1960s. “That stuff has a certain sound. It automatically takes you to a certain time and place and vibration,” Tacuma said. ”I wanted to pay tribute to those guys, who I believe were unsung.”
They’re part of “a long history and culture of Black music in Philadelphia,” he said. “There is a whole lot of music that has come from here, from the African American community, going back to Lee Andrews & the Hearts [a 1950s doo wop group], and even before then.”
Triplet is a classically trained singer and pianist who has deep Philly music roots. Her father, Sonny Forriest Jr., played guitar for Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.
Her project, called Black in Classical Music, aims to honor Marian Anderson and the contributions of Black performers in classical music.
“When I heard about the project, I said I bet all the Black musicians are going to do something with jazz or R&B or hip-hop, or maybe old blues or music that came from Africa. Because when people hear that I sing classical, they’re usually floored. They’re like ‘But you’re not white!’ And I’m like ‘Why do I have to be white?’
“So I thought I could bring some of my ideas and shed a light on Black musicians in classical music.” Given the uncertainties of COVID-19 restrictions, Triplet doesn’t yet know whether she’ll perform the work live or record a video of a performance.
Photographer and videographer Williams will be developing a digital art project, SIMBY Presents: The Voices of Sisterly Affection, to honor singers from Billie Holiday to Tierra Whack.
“I’m paying homage to Black womxn from Philly who have been the soundtrack to the lives of so many, including mine,” Williams said via email. “They’ve been the representation we need. They’ve told our stories beautifully through song.”
Burse’s grant is for Soul Sista (Reimagined), a multimedia project that will pay homage to Bilal’s 2000 single “Soul Sista.”
“The grant will allow me to reimagine a Philly soul classic, create a new video, and honor women of color as well,” Burse said via email. “I can’t wait to blow everyone’s mind with what we have planned. Stay tuned!”
Along with Veasley, the BMC judges were Fox 29 TV anchor Alex Holley, Dame and Yaya Horne of creative network Tiny Room for Elephants, rapper Chill Moody, Ashley Coleman Thomas of the Philadelphia chapter of the Recording Academy, and broadcaster and artist coach Dyana Williams.
“We’re all excited to see these amazing jawns come to life,” Moody says.
The deadline for completion of the works is May 27, and WXPN general manager Roger LaMay said the plan is to unveil them during African American Music Appreciation Month in June, either virtually, in person, or both, depending on where things stand with pandemic restrictions.
The Wyncote Foundation and Tito’s Handmade Vodka are the major funders of the project. The complete list of winners is at blackmusiccity.com.