The Making Of The Black Notes Project

[NOTE: The editorial below was written by Amy Carleton, co-founder of Black Notes Project (BNP), a new music weekend at Knight Theater, Jan. 26-27

The performance will feature national recording artists  – Brandee Younger, Mad Skillz, Igmar Thomas & Revive Big Band and “Hip Hopera” star, Tunde, as well as local favorites such as 5-year-old rapping sensation, Savannah “Van Van” McConneaughy, and the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra

This is not a sponsored story. After speaking with Carleton, we felt strongly that she should share this story in her own words, giving her the space to give you a sense of how many people and organizations contributed to making this inaugural event a reality – an experience anyone who has developed a creative event can understand. This is an interesting exploration of how the Charlotte creative community – large and small – coalesces and collaborates around an innovative idea. Enjoy.]

You may remember the early-aughts TV franchise “Making the Band.” Well, consider this a backstage view into “Making a Music Festival.”

For starters, the inaugural edition of Black Notes Project (BNP) is “orchestrally-inspired.” First and foremost, it features symphonic renditions of soulful classics – jazz, big band, soul, R&B, hip hop and much more.

BNP did not come about on a whim. Rather, it is the culmination of years of conversation and collaboration. At its core is the mission of celebrating and amplifying Black American music.

How are we making that happen? In two distinct ways:

  • Elevating the unexpected (this year, orchestral arrangements)
  • Placing Charlotte musicians center stage with Grammy-award nominees and international touring artists

MAKING SOMETHING NEW FROM SOMETHING CLASSIC


Michael Kitchen and Amy Carleton

In September 2019, my partner, Michael Kitchen of The Sol Kitchen, brought Orchestra Noir, an all-Black symphony orchestra, to Knight Theater for a sold-out concert that got people talking—including the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra (CSO).

In 2022, CSO teamed up with Sol Kitchen again to bring the orchestra back to town for a concert pairing classical standards with contemporary hip-hop and R&B favorites.

In the meantime, Michael and I developed “Community of Soul: Writing Black Music,” a project focused on training people across the country to expand coverage on this topic, on Wikipedia. We leverage his experience in the music industry and mine in higher education at MIT.

Along the way, we secured grant funding from Wikipedia to develop a series of events designed to document Black Music history. (One was hosted at the Gantt in February 2020). Michael was inspired by this experience to seek a master’s degree from Berklee College of Music. He is currently working on a doctorate in innovative teaching and learning.

We found ourselves interested in doing something that would incorporate familiar components with an unexpected twist –  something different for the Charlotte market.

The Black Notes Project was born.

ASSEMBLING A MAGNIFICENT BAND OF LOCAL CREATIVES


To bring our vision to life, we needed help. In early 2023, met with Blumenthal Performing Arts President Tom Gabbard and Alana Graber, Blumenthal’s concerts and events booking manager, to pitch BNP. Tom said “yes,” and we were off and running.

From there, Michael set to work reaching out to artists. I approached local cultural institutions and organizations to garner community support and involvement. Right off the bat, the team at The Bechtler Museum (Todd Smith, Hillary Hardwick and Katie Hoelter) was excited about the project and agreed to host our pre-festival reception.

The Mint Museum (thanks to Michele Huggins and Clayton Sealey) offered to host a documentary screening that features one of our performers, Mad Skillz (more information below).

The Gantt Center

(thanks to Ingrid James and Afeni Grace) offered to produce a festival talkback event (more information below).

And, members of of The Charlotte Symphony (conductor Christopher James Lees, Aram Kim Bryan and Dylan Lloyd) were keen to engage the CSO’s youth orchestra to perform at a family concert the morning of January 27.

While planning, we assembled a new musical ensemble that would play new orchestral arrangements of twelve classic tracks with the help of Tim Scott Jr. and Malik Johnson of The Charlotte Strings Collective. And, all would be led by Charlotte Master Chorale conductor, Philip Biedenbender.

And, finally, Pastor Jonathan Coppedge-Henley of Woodlawn Community Fellowship (whom I met at a CreativeMornings/Charlotte event!) jumped in to save the day with an offer of free rehearsal space for everyone.

EXPERIENCE THE BLACK NOTES PROJECT

I write all of this to say that when you come out to enjoy the joyful celebration of music on display at this first edition of Black Notes Project Jan. 26-27, I want everyone to know that its “secret sauce” has been Charlotte’s creative community. It has been incredibly enthusiastic in bringing BNP to life – a testament to the fact that behind the scenes, it truly does take a village to realize a vision.

We built it together. Now we hope you’ll come!

JOIN THE BAND!

Black Notes Project
Fri., Jan. 26 and Sat., Jan. 27
Knight Theater
Cost: $49.50 to $189 (VIP Package)
Get tickets here

As described above, here’s information on spin-off events and collaborations to enhance the Black Notes Project experience:

ONE: Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra featuring Van Van
Sat., Jan. 27 | 11:00 a.m.
Knight Theater
Cost: $5
Get tickets here.

The Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra will perform a new repertoire featuring the work of composers such as Florence Price, Duke Ellington and Nia Imani Franklin. During the performance, local rap sensation, Savannah “Van Van” McConaughey, will perform the songs that led to her invite to perform at the 2023 Kennedy Center Honors Tribute to Queen Latifah.

TWO: Film Screening: ‘Mad Skillz and the 90s Girl Brunch’
Sun., Jan. 28 | 2 to 4 p.m.
Mint Museum Uptown
Cost: Free

How do you build a community of music lovers over the Internet during a pandemic? Legendary songwriter, producer, rapper, and MC Mad Skillz (A.K.A. Shaqwan Lewis) did just that. And, he’s chronicled his experience in a new documentary, “Mad Skillz and the 90’s Girl Brunch,” screening at the Mint Museum Uptown.

After the film, Amy Carleton, co-creator of the Black Music Project, will moderate a Q & A session about it.

THREE: Archiving Black Music
Wednesday, January 31 | 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture
Cost: FREE
Register here.

Moderated by the founders of the Black Notes Project, Amy Carleton and Michael Kitchen, this panel discussion includes a lineup including some of Charlotte’s most prolific stewards of music and community leaders. The group will explore the process of bringing the Black Notes Project to life, as well as the importance of archiving and exploring the nuances and foundations of Black music. It is designed to be a debrief and live performance to complement the festival happening the weekend prior.