Pensacola, Florida
Monday May 28th 2018

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Local Sounds, Three Ways

By Jennie McKeon

There is no shortage of live music this weekend—and it runs the gamut from hip-hop to choral music to singer-songwriters.

And the best part is these particular events all feature some incredible local talent.

Here’s a look at three shows you won’t want to miss.

Sounds for the City
Singer-songwriter Paul Vinson says he owes his musical career to the arts community in Pensacola. So before he makes the big leap to Nashville to pursue professional music, he wanted to leave his hometown on a sweet note.

“I had this idea for a final show,” he said. “I wanted to give back to the city that gave so much to me with a show that featured some of my favorite local acts.”

That’s how Sounds for the City was born. Vinson, along with Ben Loftin and the Family and I’MAGENE (formerly Continuum), will perform at the Studer Community Institute Plaza for a family-friendly night of tunes. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Studer Community Institute’s early learning and parent outreach initiatives.

In the beginning of his career, Vinson started busking around downtown Pensacola. Over time, he’s watched the local scene of musicians, singers and songwriters grow alongside the cityscape. It was exciting for a young man from Cantonment to perform onstage at Vinyl Music Hall, and it was that local support that helped him venture out on a small tour of colleges.

“What makes a city great is the people that are in it,” Vinson said. “I want people to see how incredible the Pensacola community is.”

Vinson also wants to show off the musical talent Pensacola has.

“It’s so diverse, from punk, metal, hip-hop and really folksy acts,” he said. “It’s a thriving music scene.”

As Vinson looks toward Nashville as a new adventure, there’s no way he’ll forget his roots.

“Pensacola is my home,” he said. “There’s no going away forever. I hope to continue to see this community grow and the music scene flourish.”

Night of Black Excellence
It’s not easy to fit all of the talent from local black artists into one single night. But that’s the goal of the inaugural Night of Black Excellence.

Artists including Jamal Steele, EFAYEME, Marcel P. Black and Gina Mae the Jones are just a sample of who will be taking over the University of West Florida Music Hall stage.

But the night isn’t just about good music and art. It’s about culture.

“There’s not enough expression of culture in the South,” Jones said. “There’s a disconnect with people who have the power but don’t share the knowledge.”

A Night of Black Excellence will feature artists from the South, including Pensacola, Tallahassee and Atlanta. Jones herself is a percussionist, among the many other hats she wears. Her multimedia company, Mvtha Cvla (pronounced Mother Color), sponsored the event, providing all of the graphic design.

Jones started playing percussion at the age of 4 and has since added an impressive list of instruments she’s mastered. She describes her musical style as neo-soul and says she’s often compared to Erykah Badu. From an early age, she was taught to learn about the poets, musicians, doctors and activists in African American history. At the Night of Black Excellence, she wants to share the history and future of black artists.

“We’ve never just been in a box,” she said. “It’s essential that we build that sense of pride. This is for that next generation of musicians, artists, doctors or lawyers.”

As an artist, Jones said she wants to share her music to uplift people but to also share some culture, and not just for people of color.

“I want everybody to experience this event,” she said. “When I’m on stage, I can feel the people. I’m connecting the spirits. I want people to leave with a lighter heart and connection with the arts.”

Her Songs
The accomplishments of female composers have spent a long time in the shadows.

But “Her Songs,” the latest production from the Choral Society of Pensacola, hopes to shine light on at least a handful of women composers—one of whom is a local pianist and composer.

“Mr. Chen, our artistic director, did a concert of women composers about 10 years ago,” said Choral Society Executive Director Charlie Smoke. “Women have been shortchanged in concert and music halls. And while they’re much more widely respected now, there’s still room for improvement.”

The Choral Society of Pensacola will be performing a handful of works from female composers over the past four centuries including Amy Beach (1867-1944) and Francesca Caccini (1587-c.1630). When putting together the show, Smoke said they “cast a wide net” to include a variety of music.

“From an early 17th century opera to a hymn to the Virgin Mary… even the subject matter is diverse,” Smoke said. “We hope to spark more interest in female composers and maybe even encourage more women to create their own music.”

As the evening celebrates female artists, Smoke said it’s always nice to flip the idea of choral music on its side.

“It’s not just a standard old, white male art form,” he said.

In the past, the Choral Society has strived to be more inclusive by highlighting Spanish, Latin and even pop music from Sir Paul McCartney alongside choral masterworks.

As part of “Her Songs,” Pensacola resident and Gulf Coast Steinway Artist Kadisha Onalbayeva will be performing some of her piano music and sharing a little bit of her history. Onalbayeva is originally from Kazakhstan and has earned many accolades as a recitalist, chamber musician, composer and orchestral soloist.

Xiaolun Chen, the Society’s artistic director and conductor, will also perform two songs by American composer Amy Beach and two by Chinese American composer Chen Y—an unusual feature, Smoke said.

Showcasing the work of female artists shouldn’t be limited to one evening, however. Smoke said he’d like to see other organizations create similar events to highlight female artists.

“We’re doing our part,” he said. “We have a selection of wonderful works that are worth seeing. We’re very excited to share these composers. Whenever you open the doors to a new world, it’s an exhilarating experience.”

SOUNDS FOR THE CITY
WHEN: 6:30-11 p.m. Friday, April 20
WHERE: Studer Community Institute Plaza, 220 W. Garden St.
COST: $10 general admission, $20 pit passes, $75-$125 VIP all-access
DETAILS: facebook.com/studerinstitute

A NIGHT OF BLACK EXCELLENCE
WHEN: 7-10 p.m. Friday, April 20
WHERE: UWF Music Hall, 11000 University Parkway, Building 82
COST: $3, Free for UWF or Pensacola State College students
DETAILS: Find the event on Facebook

HER SONGS
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 21
WHERE: First United Methodist, 6 E. Wright St.
COST: $20-$25
DETAILS: choralsocietyofpensacola.org