ABOVE PHOTO: Art En Noir honorees of the evening (left to right): Dyana Williams, Sofiya Ballin, Lady Alma and Carol Riddick. (Photo: Al B. For Photography)
By Kharisma McIlwaine
On June 13th, an intimate group of artists and art lovers gathered for “Art En Noir: A Celebration of Black Women in Music.”
The event was created and hosted by Aalyah Duncan, CEO of Alist Events Marketing, with the help of the host committee members Shonda McClain, Haniyyah Sharpe Brown, and Evon Burton. Art En Noir was created to honor Black women who are impacting the arts, music and entertainment sphere in Philadelphia.
The event honored dynamic singer-songwriter Lady Alma; award-winning journalist and activist Sofiya Ballin; singer-songwriter Aja Graydon of Kindred The Family Soul; Jeri Lynne Johnson, founder/artistic director and conductor of the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra; Carol Riddick, singer-songwriter and Philadelphia Grammy Chapter President and multimedia personality, and activist/co-founder of Black Music Month, Dyana Williams.
Located in South Philadelphia, Art Sanctuary served as the host for the private reception. Smiles and hugs were plentiful as attendees sipped wine and nibbled on small bites.
Thanks to Aalyah Duncan and the host committee, Art En Noir upheld the mission of Art Sanctuary.
“Those who are in business, politics, artists, content creators, concert creators, journalists etc.… my goal was to bring them all together,” Duncan said. “Every time I go out in Philadelphia, there’s one group here and one group there… it’s not a lot of integration. This was kind of like my concept to bring all that together so this is a labor of love. I’m just happy that you guys are here to share this with us.”
She continued: “Creating and organizing this special occasion, is indeed a labor of love to show my appreciation for these dynamic black women in the music community of Philadelphia. All of the honorees are trailblazers in their own right; and it’s important that we (as black women) support and uplift each other, especially women who are rarely recognized or acknowledged by the music industry.
I’m deeply humbled by this experience and thank everyone involved to help make my initial vision a reality, including: my host committee (Evon Burton, Shonda McClain, Haniyyah Sharpe Brown); the Art Sanctuary; the Mayor’s Office and City Councilman Derek Green; our sponsors Beech Companies, The Keswick Theatre, Visit Philly, and Naked Grouse.”
Four of the six nominees were present to receive their proclamations; Aja Graydon and Jeri Lynne Johnson were unable to attend. Councilman Derek Green distributed City Council citations to the honorees.
Sofiya Ballin was recognized for her work as a music journalist, as the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalist’s “Journalist of the Year 2017” for her work as a content creator and founder of #blackhistoryuntold, a program designed to help us understand who we are within the African diaspora. Ballin shared her thoughts on the experience.
“It felt surreal to be honored at an event that celebrated Black women in music,” she said. “I had to remind myself that this was also a testament to all the hard work that I’ve done and that it’s visible, it’s impactful and it means something to people. I felt very humbled to even have my name next to these iconic women. What it told me was ‘we see you’” and it’s not necessarily passing the baton because all of these women continue to do incredible work, but it’s extending it. It’s saying keep going, you have a responsibility. It really left me feeling motivated and with so much fire to continue the work.”
Lady Alma, an extraordinary singer, songwriter and teacher whose mind-blowing vocal ability and music is appreciated not only stateside but internationally, echoed a similar sentiment.
“It was a great honor to be in the same category with such trailblazers like Dyana Williams, Carol Riddick and Ms. Ballin,” she said. “I am humbled and hope that I carry on doing great things through my music.”
Carol Riddick, a incredible singer, songwriter and producer knows the power of Art Sanctuary through growing up a block away from the historic art showcase.
The moment made her feel like she had come full circle, Riddick said.
“I feel incredibly honored and blessed,” she said. “And it feels like confirmation that I am walking in destiny with the fact that I received the award just steps away from the space that [helped] to mold and form me.”
Dyana Williams, is a fixture and pioneer not only in the Philadelphia community but, nationally and internationally for her contributions to the music world. As co-founder of Black Music Month, it seemed only fitting that Williams receive a proclamation from the office of Mayor Jim Kenney. She graciously shared her appreciation for the special honor.
“I have great regard for Philadelphia’s progressive Mayor Jim Kenney, so to receive a tribute proclamation from him, truly enhance the overall experience of being celebrated with other noted women music industry professionals,” she said.”
“Art En Noir: A Celebration of Black Women in Music” was truly an event to remember. It served as a reminder of the importance in honoring our heroes and heroines while they are still with us and are able to see the appreciation we have for their contributions.
Art Sanctuary has served the Philadelphia community for the past two decades, by creating various platforms and opportunities to celebrate Black art in all of its forms. The organization’s executive director, Valerie V. Gay, came on board in 2012. Before joining Art Sanctuary, Gay was assistant dean of the Institutional Advancement for the College of Education at Temple University.
But while she was passionate about making sure the College of Education had enough resources to create the next generation of teachers, Gay was an artist first and foremost. She had also performed a couple of World Premiere pieces for the organization.
“All of my degrees are in opera and classical voice,” Gay said. “I’m also a musician. I’ve played and directed choirs around the city and I have an art academy that I’ve been running since 2006. I’m also a community artist. I’ve worked in my community in Southwest Philly to do mosaic murals that came from the community, for the community, by the community. And I get the privilege of leading an amazing arts organization, Art Sanctuary.”
“Our mission is to use the power of Black art to transform individuals, create and build community and foster cultural understanding,” she continued. “We also say, you don’t have to be Black to love Black art, but we do come from a very specific place in that we want to embody our mission. We have core values, which include that we believe in the value of the inner city. We believe that our work can be a catalyst for transformative experiences through Black art. Through that, our mission and core values come together in two ways; in arts education, where we are in schools in North and South Philadelphia. We do things like teach the Civil Rights Movement through the arts in English and History classes, and then the other part of our programming is public and family programs. That’s where we have our gallery and our annual “Celebration of Black Arts Festival (CBA),” which this year will be running from July 1-31st.”
Not only is Gay multifaceted with a long history of community building, the building that houses Art Sanctuary possesses a rich history as a pillar for the African-American community and the Philadelphia arts community respectively.
The original owners of the building were George Edward Dickerson and his wife, Addie Whitehead Dickerson. Dickerson was one of the first Black law graduates from the Temple University School of Law and went on to represent many Black people in South Philadelphia as the community integrated. When a brick sailed through Julia Bond’s window and led to the Grey’s Ferry Riots in 1918, George Dickerson successfully sued the county for damages and got several Black men who had participated in the riot exonerated.
Addie, a realtor and activist who went on to co-create the Christian Street YMCA and become the city’s first Black notary public, represented the United States at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom meeting in Prague in 1924. She was also part of a delegation sent to the White House to talk to President Herbert Hoover about the concerns of Black Americans in 1931.
In addition to the CBA celebration happening July 1-31st, on July 29th Art Sanctuary will celebrate its 20th birthday with a block party. The celebration will include indoor and outdoor activities, as well as the dedication of two murals commemorating and memorializing the people who owned the building. Art Sanctuary is located at 628 S. 16th Street. To donate to Art Sanctuary or to find out more information about upcoming events, visit www.artsanctuary.org.