BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The mention of Grapevine in Central California will either spur a conversation about the route over the mountains to reach Southern California or spark talk about the musical hit by Marvin Gaye or Gladys Knight and the Pips. Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. wants to create discussions in connection with a more historical connotation for the term
“The Grapevine’s roots in Black America run much deeper than the Civil Rights revolution of the 1960s. John Adams wrote about the Grapevine in 1775. Booker T. Washington talked about the Grapevine in 1901,” Gates says. “The Grapevine consisted of the formal and informal networks which, for centuries, have connected Black Americans to each other through the underground, not just as a way of spreading the news, but ways of building and sustaining our community.
“Ways large and small, high and low, rural and urban, elite and underground, all in their own image.”
That version of the word is the basis for “Making Black America: Through the Grapevine” scheduled to launch at 9 p.m. tonight (Oct. 4) on Valley PBS. The four-part series chronicles the vast social networks and organizations created by and for Black people beyond the reach of the “white gaze.”
The series recounts the establishment of the Prince Hall Masons in 1775 through the formation of all-Black towns and business districts, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, destinations for leisure and the social media phenomenon of Black Twitter. Gates talks with scholars, politicians, cultural leaders and old friends to discuss this world behind the color line and what it looks like today.
“We set out in this four‑hour series to tell the story of the creation of Black America and how, in the making, a people did far more than just survive centuries of enslavement, Jim Crow segregation, and structural racism, as vicious and pervasive as they’ve been,” Gates says. “They also, at the same time created a world of their own, a sepia world, a world behind the veil, as the great W.E.B.
“In other words, our ancestors replicated the world, the white world, from which they were excluded behind the color line.”
New episodes will air Tuesdays through Oct. 25.
“Next at the Kennedy Center,” 9 p.m. Oct. 14, Valley PBS
This new primetime series from The Kennedy Center and PBS spotlights cultural leaders from the worlds of hip hop, jazz, folk, comedy, modern dance and more. Captured to match the unique style of the artists, each episode weaves together performances filmed live at the Center with intimate off-stage moments to contextualize their significance and impact.
The series will reflect the diversity of today’s performing arts in America and feature a mix of rising stars and renowned artists. The series explores the enduring influence of artistic changemakers such as Charles Mingus and Joni Mitchell, through the eyes of the artists they helped inspire.
Matthew L. Winer, executive producer of the series, knows there is no way to look at all forms of performance art. The best this series can do is offer a wide sampling.
“In terms of trying to feature all the depth and breadth and contemporary culture at The Kennedy center, we have selected to feature various artists who we believe are cultural change makers who push the boundaries in various ways. We don’t just want to have a concert. We want to tell stories and contextualize it in the right way,” Winer says. “In the case of somebody like Charles Mingus, he’s made such an incredible impact on so many artists, and we want to tell a broader story. So while the show on PBS will be anchored by the Mingus Big Band performance here at The Kennedy Center Terrace theater, we have another performance featuring Jason Moran and Georgia Anne Muldrow.
“Interpreting Mingus pushing the boundaries, in terms of the evolution of modern day, how they had taken his influence and interpreted into their own way.”
The celebration of Mingus, “Let My Children Hear Mingus,” will kick off the series. The episode showcases performances and interviews with legendary musicians, record producers, historians and activists across generations including Charles McPherson, Jason Moran, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Robert Glasper, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Keki Mingus and Christian McBride. These artists share their personal experiences playing with Mingus and growing up with his music.
Through the lens of music and history, the production offers a picture of Mingus’ outsized personality, unique style and tender heart. This portrait of the entire man gives context to his music and a deeper understanding of how he fused classical styles of jazz with the gospel and world music, pushed musical and cultural boundaries, and influenced future generations of artists in the worlds of contemporary jazz, R&B, soul and beyond. In the words of James Newton, Mingus’ music is “art created at the edge of a cliff.”
The second episode, “A Joni Mitchell Songbook,” is a special tribute to Mitchell’s orchestral albums, “Travelogue” and “Both Sides Now,” with guest artists as accompanied by the National Symphony Orchestra. It will debut at 9 p.m. Nov. 18.
This special highlights the timeless and genre-defying influence of Joni Mitchell with an all-star lineup that includes Renée Fleming, Lalah Hathaway and Raul Midón.