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(Published: May 12, 2017)

The blacker the berry the sweeter the juice is a funky, soulful, well-used, wonderful, very useful phrase. It was no doubt first used in Africa by both men and women and in the 1600s on slave ships in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean by smiling sea merchants and pirates. It was heard again in 1929, during the Harlem Renaissance, in the midst of the Great Depression, when the ebony-skinned novelist Wallace Thurman wrote a book using the title as a way to uplift "colored people" who were ashamed of being called black.

During the 1960s, when folks were called "Negroes," soul brother number one, entertainer, James Brown had it in mind when he recorded "Say It Loud. I'm Black and I'm Proud." In 2015, the Los Angeles-based rapper Kendrick Lamar, gained fame when he recorded a tune using the same name that Thurman used to do the same thing-make "African-Americans" be proud of their blackness.

Being black and sweet was on full display, from April 27-29, 2017, at the three-day, Fourth Annual Art of Cool Festival, a splendidly diverse dynamic affair, which included music--soul, neo-soul, hip-hop, funk and jazz, lectures, workshops and visual arts. The family-friendly festival was staged in downtown Durham, North Carolina. It all began on Friday, April 27, and included a well-attended art exhibit reception at the Reed Building, on the American Tobacco Campus titled, "Black On Black." That was followed by a long list of musical entertainment that featured an exhaustive, excellent array of first-rate black talent that had the festival goers hopping from one venue to the other. It was clearly a feast for ears and was a supreme joy for all who love a variety of black music.

Friday night highlights included stellar shows from trumpeter Marquis Hill at The PSI Theater, the smoking band Zoocru, at The Motorco, trumpet sensation Christian Atunde Adjuah Scott and his group and the amazing, illuminating Revive Big Band, led by the very talented Igmar Thomas, in the Carolina Theater. Saturday night included sold out shows which featured George Clinton at the Carolina Theater and rapper and actor Common at The Durham Performing Arts Center. Clinton's concert was a long extended one that had the patrons dancing in the aisle and included all ages, all shades of hair, from black to salt and pepper to gray. Common was received with the respect he deserved and his show was one of the high points and one of the must-see-gigs of the weekend.

But, it was the Friday night festivities that stood out because it was all about the black berry and how sweet it is. The Revive Big Band's leader the fully-conscious, Igmar Thomas let the audience know from the very beginning that the big band would deal with all of the music of the African diaspora to show that it was all connected and that it was all the same. The band began with the arrival of the enslaved Africans in the "new world" and went through the musical stages of the African's existence in America.

He paid homage to all the masters along the way, including Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Thelonious Monk, James Brown and others. It featured thoroughly outstanding performances from organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, rapper Pharoahe Monch and vivacious female vocalist Goapele, whose rendition of Donny Hathaway's "Someday We Will All Be Free," summed up the entire evening's festivities. The Revive Big Band's inspiring concert was for the intellectually-astute and for those who wanted to shake their bodies. It was like thick tasty rich chocolate whip pudding on a black berry pie. That's about as sweet as it gets!

We can only give a big black beautiful toast to the organizers of The Art Of Cool Festival 2017 (www.aocfestival.org) and let them know that we have already marked our 2018 calendar for the big number five, The Fifth Annual Art Of Cool Festival, April 27 through 29, 2018, when we are positive and we are definitely convinced that, without a doubt, that black is back and the berry will be much juicer than 2017!

More Information: https://www.aocfestival.org

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