The Harlem Renaissance is coming to Charlotte on Tuesday in the form of a variety show that remembers the bustling African American arts and culture scene that kicked off in New York City almost 100 years ago.
Michael Mwenso, bandleader of Mwenso and the Shakes is the host and narrator of "Harlem 100" this evening at the Knight Theater in uptown. He says this show is special because it honors the beginning of social freedom for African Americans.
“It was an incredible movement because you never had before in black history an ability for black people to consciously raise themselves up in a certain way. And to be able to have the ability to present themselves and define their own image, define their own voice," Mwenso said.
"It’s the first time that Afro-Americans in a certain way could present an image that was really of their own concept and their own creativity. And not something that was put on them so it’s a very unique special time.”
Mwenso says the show will feature the works of musicians like Duke Ellington, dancer Josephine Baker, and poet Langston Hughes. Along with the entertainment, there will be an education as well.
“It’s a combination of knowledge, hearing and seeing. And hopefully leaving with the concept and deeper understanding of what the Harlem Renaisance was and who the people were.”
What would come to be known as the Harlem Renaissance started in 1920 and spanned to the mid-1930s. This was a unique time for many reasons. After World War I, America was in an unprecedented era of economic prosperity and Americans were branching out all across the country. Mwenso says these factors fueled the arts renaissance and not just in Harlem.
“You will find that there was a renaissance happening in Detroit, in Chicago, Pittsburgh, at the same time as the Harlem Renaissance. You have all of these people that have migrated from the south to the north, you’re having this merging of writers, singers, dancers and poets, and conscious leaders.”
Mwenso says many of the artists performing in tonight’s show live in Harlem. They want to continue the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance while honoring the figures of the past.