On Friday, Charles Edward Charlton, a Johnson City native, performed a moving, humorous and emotional tribute to black American composers.
Charlton graduated high school at Science Hill right here in Johnson City and has a close relationship with several of the faculty from ETSU’s Africana Studies Program. The Director of the program, Dr. Dorothy Drinkard-Hawkshawe, introduced Charlton with pride to the small yet enthusiastic crowd.
“Charles is excellent and is working diligently to improve society, for black Americans in particular,” said Drinkard-Hawkshawe.
Charlton graduated magna cum laude from Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music in 2003 and was honored with the Benjamin E. Mays Award for notable academic achievement. Drinkard-Hawkshawe believes that Charlton is just getting started with all that he will one day achieve.
“I know that Charles will do even more as he develops his career and I’m thrilled to see where he is going,” Drinkard-Hawkshawe said.
Charlton took to the stage to perform a unique song-lecture that included vocal performance, poetry recitation and historical lecture. His program took the audience through the development of black music and its impact on American culture.
After opening with a song version of Langston Hughes famous poem, “I, Too, Sing America,” Charlton went on explain that while he has titled his lecture “Black Americans’ Contributions to United States Music and Culture,” he also likes to refer to it as “12 Pretty Songs and One Ugly Question.”
“The central question of this lecture is ‘What do you do in a culture that loves what you do but hates you,'” said Charlton.
This is a question that talented black composers have faced over the years as they dealt with a culture that celebrated their artistic success but hated the blackness of their skin.
“To begin this discussion we must start with the covert resistance of black spirituals that were prevalent during slavery,” Charlton said.
“It has always confused me when white people say they enjoy singing black spirituals – we don’t sing them because they are fun.”
Charlton continued his lecture by tracing the movement of black composers from slavery through the 1900s and then to now – the era of overt resistance. He sang 12 songs to accompany his lecture, including selections from Margaret Bonds to Duke Ellington to Florence Price just to name a few.
The end of Charlton’s performance was met with a standing ovation and quite a few tears. To learn more about the Africana Studies program and find information on other Black History Month events visit https://www.etsu.edu/afam/.