JanaeSound. Photo by Ed Arndt

This week is all about amplifying Black voices.

Musical performances in Portsmouth and Portland will mark Juneteenth, which commemorates the day that the last slaves living in bondage in the United States learned they were free.

On Friday, singer N’Kenge will take the stage at The Music Hall in front of a limited-capacity crowd, and on Saturday, there’s a streaming show from the State Theatre featuring singer JanaeSound, Mosart212 (DJ), Ali Ali (spoken word) and Rodney Mashia (singer).

I did not learn about Juneteenth in school or much at all about the Black experience other than quick-hit history lessons served up in tidy portions. I learned a little bit about slavery but not about racism. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to understand just how many holes there are in my knowledge and try to fill them at every opportunity, like these two shows.

N’Kenge. Photo courtesy of the artist Photo courtesy of the artist

On Juneteenth eve, just across the New Hampshire border, the gorgeous Music Hall is teaming up with Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire to present international award-winning singer and performer N’Kenge.

N’Kenge is a classically trained singer whose music spans 11 languages and genres from opera to gospel, jazz, pop and musical theater. She portrayed Mary Wells in the Broadway hit “Motown: The Musical” and the New York Post called her portrayal “electrifying.”

N’Kenge’s repertoire includes tunes from Aretha Franklin, Adele, Cole Porter and the musical “Wicked.” She starred in London’s West End Theatre Royal in a tribute show to Ray Charles and has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Center and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. She also sang for President Clinton at the White House and at the Commander-In-Chief’s Ball for President Obama.

N’Kenge is also the star, conceiver and producer of the musical “Dorothy” that’s headed to Broadway and is based on the life and career of Dorothy Dandridge, the first Black film star to be nominated for an Oscar for her role in “Carmen Jones” in 1954.

A Joyful Juneteenth Celebration with N’Kenge
7:30 p.m. Friday. The Music Hall, 28 Chestnut St., Portsmouth, $35. themusichall.org

On Saturday night, the State Theatre is presenting a streaming show with the recently-formed nonprofit Coded By Young Women of Color.

Musician Janay Woodruff, who performs under the name JanaeSound (and whose song “Diamonds” was my favorite local track of 2018 because of the hopeful message and her tremendous vocals), launched the nonprofit this year. Its goal is to provide training in computer coding and other skills for women of color between the ages of 18 and 30. Woodruff told me that it is in the midst of building partnerships with development firms and academic institutions.

Woodruff said she is honored to produce a show that will showcase talented people of color and raise funds for the nonprofit.

“Juneteenth is about resilience in the face of oppression and celebrating Black culture and achievements,” said Woodruff.

You can stream the show from anywhere and make donations during or after it.

Juneteenth
8 p.m. Saturday. Streaming on the State Theatre Facebook page.

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