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Celebrating African Americans and the Arts – Gadsden wraps up month of black history celebrations

Gadsden County wrapped up its month-long annual celebration of Black History Month with a weekend full of festivities.

This year’s theme was “Celebrating African Americans and the Arts.”

On Thursday night the Black History Month Reception, emceed by Gretna Mayor Gary Russ, was held at The Gadsden Arts Center.

During the reception, the following four Gadsden County natives, whose contributions to the arts have had a tremendous impact around the world, were honored:

Nat Adderley Jr., of Quincy, is a world-renowned pianist, composer, arranger, producer, and former musical director for Luther Vandross. He started playing piano as a child and had his first song, “I’m on My Way,” recorded by his uncle Cannonball Adderley on the 1967 album Why Am I Treated So Bad! by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet when the young Nat Adderley was only 11 years old. While at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City, Adderley first met Luther Vandross, who attended Taft High School in the Bronx.

 As Luther Vandross’ long-time musical director, Nat’s compositions include “Stop to Love,” “Wait for Love,” “Make Me a Believer,” “Other Side of The World,” and the Grammy-nominated “Give Me the Reason.” His many arrangements for Luther include “Superstar,” “Here and Now,” “So Amazing,” “If Only for One Night,” “If This World Were Mine,” “There’s Nothing Better Than Love,” “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” and “Never Too Much.” Also, for Luther, Nat produced “My Favorite Things,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Going Out of My Head,” and “The Closer I Get To You” (the Grammy-winning duet with Beyonce). Of course, Nat also produced Luther’s last project, “Live at Radio City Music Hall.” 

Denisia “Blue June” Andrews, from Havana, is a singer-songwriter and member of the writing/production duo Nova Wav alongside her creative partner Brittany “Chi” Coney. According to the Los Angeles Times, Nova Waw is the music industry’s first female songwriting production team. Andrews, who got her musical start at St. Luke Primitive Baptist Church in Midway, is a Grammy award-winning lyricist who has created songs for Beyonce, Jazmine Sullivan, Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj, Kirk Franklin and Kelly Clarkson and many others.

Andrews was heavily influenced by her musically inclined Christian family at a young age. Her inspiration came from her father, Ira, and mother, May, both vocalists. Her alias, “Blue June,” was chosen to pay homage to her late father.

In 2018, Andrew’s and creative partner Chi won their first Grammy Award for co-writing and producing “LoveHappy” and co-writing “Nice,” “Friends,” and “Black Effect” on Carter’s album Everything is Love, which was released on June 16, 2018.

In 2020, they co-wrote Beyonce’s charity single Black Parade. It was the most nominated song at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards, with four nominations, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year. The song won Best R&B Performance.

In 2022, they won their next Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance for their work on Jazmine Sullivan’s Pick Up Your Feelings. Later that year, the duo co-wrote eight out of 16 songs on Beyonce’s highly anticipated album Renaissance. Andrews’ mother, May Andrews, accepted her award on her behalf. The song-writer is currently working on a priority album, and was unable to make the event.

Tananarive Due, of Quincy, is an award-winning author who teaches Black Horror and Afrofuturism at UCLA. She is an executive producer on Shudder’s groundbreaking documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. She and her husband/collaborator, Steven Barnes, wrote “A Small Town” for Season 2 of Jordan Peele’s “The Twilight Zone” on Paramount Plus and two segments of Shudder’s anthology film Horror Noire. They also co-wrote their upcoming Black Horror graphic novel The Keeper, illustrated by Marco Finnegan. Due and Barnes co-host a podcast, “Lifewriting: Write for Your Life!”

 A leading voice in Black speculative fiction for more than 20 years, Due has won an American Book Award, an NAACP Image Award, and a British Fantasy Award, and her writing has been included in best-of-the-year anthologies. Her books include Ghost Summer: Stories, My Soul to Keep, and The Good House. She and her late mother, civil rights activist Patricia Stephens Due, co-authored Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights.

Dean Mitchell, from Quincy, is a world-renowned watercolorist who has captured Quincy’s tobacco houses and his beloved grandmother Marie Brooks, who purchased a paint-by-number set for him when he was five. That simple, historic purchase changed the course of his life forever.  

Dean Mitchell, described by New York Times art critic Michel Kimmelman as a modern-day Vermeer, is known for his watercolors, oils, and acrylic paintings. Mitchell is also well known for his figurative works, landscapes, and still lifes. In addition to watercolors, he is accomplished in other mediums, including egg temperas, oils, and pastels, and has been featured in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, American Artist, Artist Magazine, Fine Art International, and Art News.

Attendees of the reception were also be able to view the art exhibit of Jacob Lawrence: Three Series of Prints from the Collections of Dr. and Mrs. Leon Banks & Alitash Kebede Organized by Landau Traveling Exhibitions

On Saturday, the 44th Annual Black History Festival and Parade drew thousands of people to Downtown Quincy.

The parade, which was from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., was filled with entertaining performances and greetings from local leaders.

Florida A&M’s Marching 100 participated in the parade for a third year in a row, and put on a performance in the middle of Jefferson Street, in front of  the Gadsden County Courthouse immediately after the parade.

Once the parade concluded, those who were in attendance crossed over Jefferson Street and met at the Courthouse Square for the Black History Festival which lasted until 5 p.m.

The Black History Month celebration concluded with a gala in Mt. Pleasant Saturday night.

Erin Hill – Gadsden County News Service