New York City’s longest-running house band, Harlem’s own Sugar Hill Quartet (with a very Special Guest), co-headline While We Are Still Here’s 4th Annual Sugar Hill Music Festival
, Saturday, September 7, 2019, 3pm, at the Sugar Hill Luminaries Lawn, on Edgecombe Avenue and 155th Street, in Harlem. Sharing the stage will be the Firey String Sistas! and Soul Understated featuring Mavis Swan Poole. This year’s Reading Across Harlem
features Lashawn Harris, author of Sex Workers, Psychics, and Numbers Runners: Black Women in New York City’s Underground Economy,
is an expert on Madam Stephanie St. Clair, legendary numbers banker and activist. Ms. St. Clair is prominently featured in the publication. Novella Ford, of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, will interview Ms. Harris. Her book will be available for sale. WBGO’s Sheila Anderson will serve as the emcee for the day’s festivities.
While We Are Still Here (WWSH) is a heritage-preservation organization, founded to celebrate the history of Harlem, with a mission to ensure“that the ‘post-gentrification’ community of Harlem and beyond will honor and find a meaningful connection to the legacy of African-American achievement, and its paramount importance to world culture.” Annually, the Sugar Hill Music Festival pays homage to the musicians and composers, who contributed to Harlem’s spectacular influence upon the world of music—from spirituals to jazz, from funk to R&B, the blues, and European classical music.
Initially, WWSH’s heritage-preservation activities were, primarily, focused on 409 and 555 Edgecombe Avenue, because these two addresses were top heavy with African-American movers and shakers from every sphere, for nearly one hundred years. Residents included W.E.B Du Bois, Paul Robe-son, Thurgood Marshall, Elizabeth Catlett, Count Basie, Billy Strayhorn, and Cassandra Wilson. However, the organization has broadened its scope to include Harlem, in general. (Please visit www.wwsh.nyc)
While We Are Still Here receives the support of the West Harlem Development Corporation and the Puffin Foundation.
Performer and Participant Biographies
The Sugar Hill Quartet, led by Patience Higgins, is the longest-running house band in New York City, performing for over two decades at St. Nick’s Pub, Minton’s, Lenox Lounge, and Smoke. Quartet members (Marcus Persiani, David F. Gibson, and the bass chair rotates) keep the Harlem jam-session tradition alive and have laid down the musical foundation for the likes of Stevie Wonder, Wynton Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson, and Bono.
Firey String Sistas! has had several different configurations, including string quartet with harp and percussion. Firey String Sistas! is a highly intuitive and energetic ensemble that provides a refreshing alternative to the standard jazz band. Since 2011, the ensemble has been committed to pushing the limits of string, ensemble playing, and improvisation to the next level. Founder and cellist Nioka Workman is joined by stellar artists that include bassist Melissa Slocum and vocalist/pianist Mala Waldron. Firey String Sistas! presents compelling performances that incorporate aspects of women’s culture, original compositions, American songbook standards, world music, and jazz. They develop their unique approach to music collaboratively, as a group. In their third year, they produced a CD, "That's What She Said."
Soul Understated is led by vocalist Mavis ’SWAN’ Poole (Lauryn Hill, Prince) whose distinctive vocal sound recalls Erykah Badu and Esther Phillips; and Jeremy ‘BEAN’ Clemons(who has performed with Gregory Porter, Burning Spear, Jennifer Holliday, and more). Soul Understated delivers a beautifully performed organic sound with stellar musicianship.
Their sound includes elements of Earth, Wind, and Fire; Ella Fitzgerald; Donny Hathaway; Curtis Mayfield; Sarah Vaughn; and Count Basie. Soul Understated’s Hip-hop infused music spans all genres.
They’ve appeared at major venues, such as the Blue Note Jazz Fest, the Brooklyn Hip Hop Fest, the Toronto Jazz Festival, and the Capital Jazz Super Cruise. Swan appeared in the HBO series, Vinyl
LaShawn Harris is a native New Yorker. She is an associate professor of History at Michigan State University and Assistant Editor for The Journal of African American History. Her area of expertise includes twentieth century United States and African American histories. Dr. Harris’s scholarly articles have appeared in The Journal of African American History, Journal of Social History, Journal of Urban History, and theJournal for the Study of Radicalism. Her first monograph Sex Workers, Psychics, and Numbers Runners: Black Women in New York City’s Underground Economy, whichexplores how a diverse group of African American women carved out unique niches for themselves within New York City's expansive underground economy. In 2017, Sex Workers, Psychics, and Numbers Runnerswon the Organization of American Historians’ Darlene Clark Hine Book Award for the best book in African American women's history, and the Philip Taft Labor Prize in Labor and Working-Class History for the best book in labor history.
Her recent publication, which appears in SOULS: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society, examines the less familiar life of 1984 police shooting victim and Bronx resident Eleanor Bumpurs.
Novella Ford is the manager of public programs at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. She is committed to advancing knowledge of the global black experience through programs and exhibitions. She also possesses more than ten years of experience managing and leading diverse fundraising campaigns ranging from $500K to $10M for noteworthy institutions and events with a focus on giving through corporations, foundations, and individuals. Program areas include the performing arts, law, communications, education, entrepreneurship, employment, college readiness, STEM education, and foster care. A common thread throughout her career has been a commitment to preserve the integrity and legacy of institutions that have historically served low-income communities and championed the artistic and intellectual output of communities of color.