Festival Blog

2018 Festival of Homiletics - Washington, DC

"Preaching and Politics"

 

Speakers

Musician Profile: Charlotte Blake Alston

Bio

Master Storyteller, Narrator and Librettist

Charlotte Blake Alston performs in venues throughout North America and abroad. Venues are wide and include the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Smithsonian Institution, the Kimmel Center, the Women of the World Festival in Cape Town, South Africa, prisons, detention centers and a refugee camp in northern Senegal.

She breathes life into traditional and contemporary stories from African and African American oral and cultural traditions. Her solo performances are often enhanced with traditional instruments such as djembe, mbira, shekere or the 21-stringed kora. In 1999, Charlotte began studying the kora and the West African history-telling traditions of Senegal, Mali, Guinea and Guinea Bissau. Her teacher was the highly respected Senegalese griot (jali), the late Djimo Kouyate. She has recently resumed her studies with Malian Virtuoso Yacouba Sissoko.

She brings her stories and songs to national and regional festivals, schools, universities, museums, libraries and performing arts centers throughout the United States and Canada, as well as local and national radio and television. Her repertoire is wide and programs are adapted to any grade level or age group.

In 1991, Charlotte became the first storyteller to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra on both their Family and Student concert series. Since 1994, she has been the host of “Sound All Around”; the orchestra’s preschool concert series and continues to appear as a guest host and narrator on family concerts. For 6 seasons, Charlotte hosted “Carnegie Kids”, Carnegie Hall’s Preschool concert series and has been a featured artist on the Carnegie Hall Family Concert Series in NY since 1996. She has been a featured teller at The National Storytelling Festival, The National Festival of Black Storytelling, and at regional festivals throughout North America and abroad. She has been a featured artist at both the Presidential Inaugural Festivities in Washington, DC and the Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Children’s Inaugural Celebrations in Harrisburg, PA.

She has been a featured narrator for several orchestras and conductors including The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Orchestra of St. Luke’s, The Cleveland Orchestra, the Saint Louis Symphony and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. She represented Carnegie Hall in 2003 when she hosted a series of concerts in Miyazaki, Japan with the Eddie Arron String Quartet and fellow storyteller, Motoko. Currently, she performs as both pre-concert artist and host of Carnegie Hall’s Family and Education Concert Series. In addition, she previously served as a host for Carnegie Hall’s Community Sing-Ins. Charlotte’s narrative voice can be heard on documentaries including Plenty of Good Women Dancers, The Peddie School, and Crosstown. In the PBS documentary Safe Harbor, producers proclaim her “strong, steady voice is like a lantern in the darkness”. She has narrated two shows at the Franklin Institute’s Fels Planetarium – Under African Skies and Stars of Wonder. She herself was featured in the award-winning documentary Family Name that aired around the country on PBS. Kinocraft Media Productions converted her “Martin Luther King Storypoem” to video format for educational distribution. She is the narrative voice for a series of training videos produced by Global Media Health

Ms. Alston has produced several commissioned works for orchestras and opera companies including original narrative texts for Carnival of the Animals and Scheherazade. More recently she has been engaged as a librettist for The Philadelphia Orchestra and The Commonwealth Youthchoirs. The Children’s March, a 90-minute work commissioned by Singing City Choir, retells the story of the children’s march in Birmingham in 1963.  The work premiered to critical acclaim at the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA) in 2013. She also crafted a text with multiple story lines for a unique set of  Choose Your Own Adventure concerts for school and family audiences for the Philadelphia Orchestra. In this one-of-a-kind concert, the audience gets to choose which direction the story line will go!

She has collaborated with composers Andrea Clearfield, Kabo Omowale: Welcome Home Child, John Blake with The Good Raised Up and Andrew Bleckner, The Children’s March.

She was commissioned by the Huntingdon County Arts Council to craft and tell the story of the African American community of Mount Union, Pennsylvania which included a residency and performances for school and public audiences. Charlotte has received numerous honors including the prestigious Pew Fellowship in the Arts. She was selected as Philadelphia Magazine’s “Best of Philly” and was the recipient of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Artist Of The Year Award (The Hazlett Memorial Award), which recognizes individual artists “for excellence in the Commonwealth.” She holds two honorary PhDs and received the Circle of Excellence Award from the National Storytelling Association.

Charlotte was one of four Americans selected to perform and present at the first International Storytelling Field Conference in Ghana and was a featured artist at the Second Int’l Festival in Cape Town, South Africa. In the summer of 2005, she was the sole American selected to perform on a main stage at the STIMMEN: Voices Festival in Basel, Switzerland and The Cape Clear Island Festival in Ireland. She was the Director of “In the Tradition…” the 14th National Festival of Black Storytelling. She is a recipient of the Zora Neale Hurston Award, the highest award bestowed by the National Association of Black Storytellers. 

Festival Schedule

May 18th - 7:00pm - Peachtree Road United Methodist - Music & Storytelling

ESHOTI: Standing on Tradition

Before there was the written word, there was the spoken word. For centuries, storytelling was the medium through which a people’s history, traditions, mores, beliefs and cultural expectations were passed down. In these contemporary times, Charlotte Blake Alston keeps this artful oral tradition alive. She’ll share stories and songs from African American oral traditions  and, who knows, maybe even a short sermon or two!

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