Beginning on Friday, June 18, NYC artists will be observing Juneteenth – the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the US, dating back to 1865, when Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war was over and enslaved people were now free (two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation) – with a line-up of shows and special events that celebrate Black history and the Black theater community.
Little Mozart Foundation, Greenwich House Music School, Soapbox Presents, and Ars Nova kick off the weekend on Friday, June 18, from 4-5:30 pm, with a co-presentation of Juneteenth Jubilee in front of Greenwich House Pottery (16 Jones Street). The interactive music festival, celebrating America’s Independence Day (the day ALL Americans were free), will trace the development of Jazz from its African roots to its birth in New Orleans, its flourishing in the Harlem Renaissance, and its impact during the Civil Rights Movement and the current Black Lives Matter movement, while engaging the audience with dancing, singing, music, puppetry, and storytelling. The fun will include tap dancing, African drumming, New Orleans-style parades, poetry readings, drag queen story time, make-your-own maraca and Juneteenth flag stations, and much more! The event is free, but RSVPs are requested. To register, click here.
On Saturday, June 19, from noon-1:30 pm, The Broadway League’s Black to Broadway Initiative – created in 2019, to inspire deeper engagement with, awareness of, and access to Broadway for the Black community on Broadway, on stage, in the audience, behind the scenes, and as leaders – will present its inaugural Broadway Celebrates Juneteenth, a free outdoor event in Times Square focused on Black joy and unity.
Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin noted, “This will be the first year that Juneteenth will be an official holiday in New York State. We are proud to be honoring and celebrating this important day together as a community. We will be reflecting on the incredible contributions that the Black members of our community have made and continue to contribute to Broadway. As the industry prepares to reopen this fall, we welcome this opportunity to join together in looking forward to a better Broadway, one that comes back stronger, more diverse, more equitable, more inclusive, and more united.”
Sponsored by MAC Cosmetics and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS with the support of the Times Square Alliance, the 90-minute rain-or-shine concert of song and dance, directed by Steve H. Broadnax III, will feature performances by Black Broadway cast members from such shows as Diana The Musical, Girl from the North Country, The Lion King, Moulin Rouge, The Phantom of the Opera, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, and Thoughts of a Colored Man, with live music by The Music Performance Trust Fund and music direction by Daryl Waters. The show will also include special appearances by Lillias White, Ben Vereen, and more. The program is free and open to everyone; for more information, go online.
If you can’t make it to Times Square on Saturday, June 19, you can partake in a virtual Juneteenth Event at noon, when Broadway actress Vasthy Mompoint (The Prom) will be joined on her kid-friendly Vasthy’s Friends series by Grammy-nominated Beyoncé bassist Divinity Roxx, Tony nominee Lilli Cooper (SpongeBob: The Musical), and Broadway’s Gilbert L. Bailey (Beetlejuice) and Jerusha Cavazos (The Prom). The whole family can sing, dance, read, rock out, and learn more about Juneteenth and the significant role it plays in our history and the Emancipation of the remaining enslaved African-Americans in the Confederacy.
Mompoint, a first-generation Haitian-American who grew up in Alabama, and went on to be in eight Broadway shows, but never saw herself represented on film, TV, or stage, explained, “Our Juneteenth show, for me, is one of our most important shows. American History books often skip over Juneteenth. In fact, I didn’t know about it until I was an adult. When we leave these teachings out, we ignore an entire culture that is embedded in the very fabric of this country. How sad that the slaves didn’t know they were free until years after the Proclamation, and we have not celebrated their freedom until now. We hope to make this a yearly show of music, dance and bring honor to the hands that built America. It is a day of Celebration.”
Families can join in the Zoom Room or watch on the Vasthy’s Friends website, YouTube channel, and Facebook page. As with all Vasthy’s Friends events, the Juneteenth episode is donation-based and free to all. Voluntary donations will support the Pretty Brown Girl organization, which empowers Black and Brown girls and encourages self-acceptance by cultivating self-confidence, pride, and leadership skills to help propel them into positions of power and community activism.