Local Churches Celebrate Juneteenth Through Gospel Music

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While many black communities across the country have celebrated Juneteenth every year since, it officially became a national holiday on June 17, 2021. This year at Junaluska Lake, the Smoky Mountain District of the Western Conference of The North Carolina United Methodist Church will host its second annual celebration on June 19 with gospel music by Dr. Tiffany Jackson, the Catamount Singers and the Community Gospel Choir, as well as food trucks and family activities.

“Our mission for the celebration is to worship inclusively, educate our communities about its racial history, initiate critical conversations toward reconciliation, and celebrate African American freedom and culture,” D’s said. Andre Ash and Dr. Keith Turman, co-chairs of the Smoky Mountain District Justice and Reconciliation Team.

Dr. Tiffany Jackson discovered her gift for singing and love for music growing up in Connecticut, where she attended a black church, sang gospel music, and learned hymns of praise and worship.

“That’s where it all started for me, when I started to understand the beauty of music and the power of music in the church basically,” Jackson said.

Early on, Jackson’s mother recognized in her daughter a talent that exceeded the norm for a weekend singer and enrolled her in singing lessons. It was there that Jackson was introduced to music outside of her own cultural experience, where she learned the styles of music that would take her across the world, and eventually, to the mountains of western Carolina. North.

“By the time I was in high school, I started to sound like a budding young opera singer,” Jackson said. “It really wasn’t a plan. It was just kind of like, wow, my voice sounds different than other people’s. He had this kind of more Eurocentric operatic sound, and that’s how things started to work out. take shape for me in terms of the classic way.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and completing graduate school at Yale, Jackson went on to a long career as a lauded singer that spanned both classical and jazz genres. She honed her classical craft with the Houston Grand Opera Studio, then sang with orchestras and symphonies in Norway, Slovenia and Germany, among other countries. She has been a featured soloist with many symphony orchestras and has performed at major festivals. In 2005, she was the soprano soloist of Joseph Hadyn’s Paukenmesse at Carnegie Hall.

In the jazz world, Jackson is known for her interpretations of the music of Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington. She can be heard on recordings with Emmy Award-winning pianist, composer, and educator Dr. Rex Cadwallader in “A Balm in Gilead” and “Sweet Perfume in an Alabaster Jar.”

In addition to her singing credits, Jackson is a fitness competitor and sports nutrition specialist. She appeared on “America’s Got Talent” as “Necessary Diva”, the opera singer bodybuilder in 2011.

During the June 19 celebration, Jackson will perform pieces from his solo show “From the Hood to the Ivy League,” an autobiographical and multimedia mix of story and song based on three key pillars of his life: giving, passion and purpose.

“It’s the story of a girl who was born and raised in the inner city, in what they call the projects, who rose from a lowly space in life to a powerful position where now she inspires other young people who may not have all the amenities that some kids do,” Jackson said.

Now Jackson teaches at Western Carolina University, where a full performance of “From the Hood to the Ivy League” will be on stage at the Bardo Arts Center beginning in January 2023.

“When I graduated from professional studies at the Manhattan School of Music, I came to a point where I came full circle where I started to focus on American musical genres again,” Jackson said. “I grew up singing gospel and jazz, and came back to that. Now I sing all genres and my position at university is a dual role of focusing, not just on Eurocentrism, but on American music and on much music that has been influenced by African-American composers and the African-American influence in the evolution of American musical genres.

When Jackson arrived in the area, she was thrilled to learn that Lake Junaluska was hosting a June 19th celebration and it wasn’t long before Keith Turman, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Waynesville, contacted Jackson to see if she would be ready. to perform.

“I didn’t just want to make Juneteenth a unique experience for me; I thought WCU students should be a part of that as well,” Jackson said. “Because Juneteenth is a newly created national holiday in the country, I just thought my students should be part of it somehow.”

Dr. Jackson has just completed his first year of teaching at Western Carolina University. Photo offered

The Catamount Singers are a small ensemble of singers that Jackson leads at the WCU. She worked with the band on vocals soulfully.

“Singing with soul means singing with emotion, singing with truth, any of their own personal struggles that they themselves have had, to find a way to filter the trauma through music,” Jackson said. . “That has been my sole purpose in this soulful singing ideal. Audiences can expect a group of white children singing with emotion and honesty, with power and truth, and an understanding of what Juneteenth is all about.

The ensemble will perform group songs, as well as solo performances, with music spanning genres from soul and blues to bluegrass. There will be songs from Aretha Franklin, as well as songs from the big movie “Harriet Tubman”.

Although Jackson has only been teaching at WCU for a year, she already feels a valuable connection to the region and its students.

“That’s the strength of being at Western Carolina is that these kids weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouths,” Jackson said. “Most of the white kids I’ve taught in Connecticut are very wealthy. Teaching these kids at WCU has been a joy for me because I can relate to them and they can relate to me. We both have this thing in common: we didn’t grow up with a lot of money and resources. We still have our talents, gifts, and passions to find purpose in our lives.

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A large crowd gathered for the first annual June 19 celebration at Lake Junaluska last year. Photo offered

The idea for a June 16 celebration at Lake Junaluska grew out of the efforts of the Smoky Mountain District Justice and Reconciliation Team which was formed within the local Methodist organization to undertake the work of understanding and Healing Discrimination in Western North Carolina.

“The mission of the Justice and Reconciliation team is to celebrate, educate, worship and initiate,” Ash said. “We hope to celebrate diversity with this June 19 event which will be a visual manifestation of our mission. We hope to celebrate diversity and educate people about racial history and the disparities that exist between races. We hope to worship with people of different denominations, of different religions and for it to be a movement that springs from our Methodist tradition, but which invites and includes others. We hope to start conversations.

Jackson admits that it wasn’t too long ago that she heard about Juneteenth. In recent years, a study of the 1619 Project has led her to better understand slaves in American history, how Juneteenth came to be, and what it means today.

“Slavery didn’t just affect black people. Of course, it hurt us directly, but I feel like it hurt the whole world as well, the whole country,” Jackson said. “It made a lot of people rich, and it gave a lot of people generations of wealth and security, that’s for sure. But when I talk about suffering, I’m talking about the ugliness of racism and caste systems. I’m talking about how people have predispositions to hate that’s been passed down from generation to generation, intergenerational racism, how it’s harmed us all.

While Juneteenth has its roots in freedom from movable slavery, Jackson sees the holiday as an opportunity for everyone to celebrate the liberation of this country from the institution of slavery and to continue to fight for freedom against racism and hatred.

“Racism isn’t something that only hurts black people, it hurts all of us,” Jackson said. “It puts us all in a position where we’re tribalized, where we feel like we have to choose sides, and where we’re in conflict because of what our parents felt or what our grandparents felt. For me, Juneteenth is more than just a celebration of black freedom. It should be about all our freedoms and understanding how we all relate to each other. The freedom of one group of people also means the freedom of another, whether people are physically, emotionally or psychologically in bondage, I think Juneteenth should be about everyone celebrating freedoms and healing.


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