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“Strange Fruit” – Remembering the Civil Rights Movement

I was a bit disappointed this past November when I was unable to see the Edlavtich DCJCC’s Washington Jewish Music Festival (WJMF) show by Levine Music, “Strange Fruit: Music from – and inspired by – the Civil Rights movement”. The tickets for this show sold out too quickly for me to get one, and people who attended told me it was a big success. So when I saw, last month, that the EDCJCC was offering a second performance on January 29th, I immediately decided to check it out AND got the chance to speak with one of the musicians involved!

The “Strange Fruit” concert was a powerful and intense experience from the beginning to the end. Energetic songs and freedom chants were sung, heartbreaking poems and motivating speeches were recited. The audience was taken to the 1960s and back by the rhythm of the instruments and the amazing voices of the musicians. By the end everybody stood, sang and clapped to the rhythm of “We Shall Overcome!”

A few days before the performance, I had the pleasure of speaking with internationally acclaimed opera singer and star of this show, Mr. Charles Williams – who has performed at renowned venues such as Carnegie Hall, Wolf Trap, The Smithsonian, and the Kennedy Center. Williams led the “Strange Fruit” show with songs, recited classic poetry, and even read a portion of Martin Luther King Jr’s Nobel Prize speech. We talked about the two performances at the EDCJCC, freedom riders, the civil rights movement, and the difference with today’s movements for social justice.

Daniela: “Strange Fruit” had already been performed and had such a big impact that the EDCJCC proposed an encore. Were you expecting such a big success?

Charles: It was very exciting, and we were very overwhelmed by the reception. We’d love to do it again, and in other places, but there are about 7 people in the show and it’s difficult to get them all together. When composer, educator, and one of the leading musicians Chris Brown (no, not that Chris Brown) – and the people at the EDCJCC suggested we do it again, we all agreed and we’re really looking forward to it.

Daniela: Tell us about this project. Why did you decide to present it as part of the Washington Jewish Music Festival?

Charles: Chris Brown spoke with the people at the WJMF, and thought it was a wonderful idea to open the show during the WJMF because it has a lot to do with racism, and the Jewish people have had their share of racism – it was a natural. During the Civil Rights era, there were so many people of all religions and ages that were very much a part of it, including a lot of Jews. Martin Luther King Jr. had a very special talent because he was speaking the truth and people knew it. He forced Americans to get on the right track.

Daniela: What about the musical selection? How did the set list come together?

Charles: In 1961 the freedom riders travelled to Washington, DC and to the deep south. Some of them were attacked, and some of them were killed. We chose some of the freedom riders’ songs that I suggested, and as well as some of the other songs from the era that were being sung by the students.

Daniela: What makes a song like “Strange Fruit” a protest song, and how big of an impact did that song have when it first came out?

Charles: “Strange Fruit” was written in 1939 by a white, Jewish school teacher Abel Meeropol who was a member of The Communist Party. He wrote it as a protest poem exposing American racism and particularly the lynching of African Americans. Then, Billie Holiday wrote music to it. It became an anthem, a very important song of the civil rights era.

Daniela: Do you think that today’s “resistance” movement can be compared to the civil rights movement? What’s the role of music in it?

Charles: You can compare today’s “resistance” movement to the civil rights movement, but there is one significant difference. During the civil rights movement, people sang. Everybody – Catholics, Jews, Black people, and White people…they sang.

Nowadays, people are not singing. Even during the Women’s March, they were not singing. Music is extremely powerful, and if you do music while you are resisting, that becomes very powerful and it’s difficult to disregard it. I think that’s what is missing with these movements, like the Women’s movement and Black Lives Matter. They could sing the music from the civil rights era! They are missing an opportunity, and it won’t have as big of a success without the music. Music and love are the most powerful forces on earth!

 

About the Author: Daniela Enriquez is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. Daniela is Italian and comes from the only Jewish family in Palermo (population: slightly higher than DC). Things she likes about America include: the price of clothing, Internet coffee houses and ice rinks. Among the less desirable things are: the obsession with air conditioning, American “espresso,” and root beer. Feel free to contact her for advice on real Italian food in DC!

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Why I Love Five Minute Dates (and You Should Too)!

Raise your hand if you have sat through a first date you met from “fill-in-the-blank” dating app about 45 minutes longer than you wanted to?

Can you count the number of times you started talking with someone at a bar you were interested in, but it turned out he or she was not single?

Remember the night you attended that Jewish happy hour looking for a date but only talked to people looking for friends?

Most of us have been there.

You wished that first blind meeting would be shorter, but you are obligated to stay for at least one drink, or you spend a few hours chatting up the one person you find attractive in the room only to find out they’re not available.

We don’t always want to admit that sometimes the easiest thing to do is be in a room where we know everyone is single and looking.

That is why I have been hosting speed dating events for the Jewish community for the past 6 years.

I was skeptical of the speed dating format at first (which is why my events add other mingling elements) but I do think these types of events have lots of positives.

You don’t have to cite the lemon law

Conceived by Barney, the perpetual bachelor from the television show How I Met Your Mother, The Lemon Law is a rule introduced to avoid spending too long on a date that is going nowhere. The Lemon Law entitles either party on a date to call off the date within the first five minutes with no repercussions or hard feelings.  With speed dating your total date lasts less time than your favorite Spotify song.

You can meet people you would not otherwise meet

The first time I went speed dating on my own was before the era of swiping right, and around the time online dating was at its peak. I tried to go in with an open mind, and figured if I didn’t meet anyone or get a match, at least I tried something new.  I wound up matching with 3 men I had not come across before and went out with all of them, going on several dates with 2 out of the 3. None of them hdid online dating at the time, or attended a lot of Jewish events, so the chance of us meeting was practically zero. Although it didn’t work out romantically with them, one of these men I still count as my good friend today (sorry, he is taken ladies) and I helped introduce him to his current circle of guy friends.

I decided to try speed dating another time a few years later. This time, I didn’t feel a connection with any of the men.  I noticed many of the women were sharing the same feelings at the end of the night so a group of us decided to go to dinner after the event. We had a great time discussing our evening and many of us kept in touch. I still consider this night a win for me.

IRL vs. swiping right

In the world of app and online dating, there is a good chance that someone does a) not look like their picture or is b) shorter or taller than they listed or c) more extroverted or introverted than their text conversations led you to believe. Meeting someone first IRL takes the guesswork out of the equation.

A preview date leads to a better real first date

A few years ago I threw myself into the mix of one of my group speed dating events since we needed more women. During the mingling portion of the evening I heard that one of the men was asking the women a much better question than the typical DC “what do you do?” Apparently he was going around having everyone describe their favorite board game and why they liked it. Of course, I eventually met this guy during a round of speed dating and we discussed my love of the game Balderdash. He asked for my number and I said yes. Why? Because I knew he would be a fun date, he stood out from the crowd and was creative during our “preview date.” My instincts were right; he didn’t suggest a typical drinks or coffee first date.

On our date, we had Sour Patch (him) and Reese’s Peanut-Butter Cup (me) infused beers for DC Beer Week with dinner and then attended a secret musical open-mic show.  Where is board game guy today you ask? He moved away from DC a few years ago, but I still have him to thank for creating the app that allows everyone to choose their matches at our speed dating events.

Speed dating has some silver linings, right?  Every year, before Single’s Awareness Day (AKA: Valentine’s Day), I host my speed dating event, Lox Meets Bagel. I gather around 100 Jewish young adults in a room and call on cupid to make some matches. Next Wednesday, February 7, I hope you will also be up for more IRL dates and meeting new people and join me for some “preview dates.”

And because I am confident you too will make some matches, for after the “preview date”:

Brightest Young Things first date guide

Thrillist’s 26 Winter Date Ideas that are not just drinks

Date Nights DC

 

About the Author: Stacy Miller is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! She enjoys entertaining her large Jew crew at her home and is currently the Director of EntryPointDC, the 20s and 30s program of the Edlavitch DCJCC. She represents all things Northern Virginia as the Founder of NOVA Tribe Series and is a former GatherDCGirl of the Year Runner-Up. Most importantly, she wants you know she LOVES this community a-latke.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.