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“Juneteenth: An American Celebration” Encore Performance By Dr. Francesca Armmer

As the year 2020 began, we had no idea that within six months all of our lives would be changed; changed due to a COVID-19 pandemic that would require that our safety include sheltering in, wearing masks and gloves, and social distancing of 6 feet—Changed because an African man who allegedly passed a counterfeit $20 bill would be handcuffed and murdered in broad daylight—Changed because an African American woman, an EMT, would be shot as police broke into her apartment on an alleged drug bust! CHANGED!

How shall we maintain the stability that is needed to live in victory in the midst of so much change? Prayer, yes! Activism and Advocacy, yes! Remembering and Embracing our joy, yes! It is to “Remembering and Embracing our Joy” that the Heritage Ensemble is pleased to invite you to join us in concert!

Juneteenth: An American Celebration: Encore Performance”

On Friday, June 19, 2020, at 7:30 pm, the Heritage Ensemble invites you to join us in a virtual, unique musical journey. This journey will premier on YouTube and Facebook; and will ultimately be available on the Heritage Ensemble website. The focus of the performance is an encouragement for us all to remember and embrace our joy. Remember our history and the creative ways in which our foreparents survived through the harshness of slavery. Remember the music that chanted ways to freedom. Remember the legacy that we all may cherish in good times and bad! The uniqueness of this virtual celebration will be a journey of hope through the powerful music of the spiritual (born in a time of slavery, despair and sorrow) to the post-emancipation time period and the equally powerful gospel music (born out of an anticipatory view of joy and freedom to come) and of jazz. The Youth Heritage Ensemble will also blend their voices in selected encore songs!

This upcoming virtual encore performance will mark the 21st Juneteenth performance of the Ensemble. The creative efforts of Mrs. Sharon Samuels Reed, Founder and Artistic Director of the Heritage Ensemble and staff, will provide a concert that shall be worth viewing again and again.

The Heritage Ensemble has earned the reputation as a renown community musical organization whose depth and breadth of performance features the sustained influence of the Negro spiritual in the arts. The June performance is lovingly referred to as the “Juneteenth” concert, allowing all of us to reflect upon the emancipation experience and the delay of the Emancipation Proclamation in implementation in the state of Texas.

The Heritage Ensemble began as a vision from the founder and artistic director, Mrs. Sharon Samuels Reed. Together a core group of performers were called upon to be the pivotal community in the Opera Illinois production of Porgy and Bess. In preparation for this production, the group performed A Concert of Spirituals. This marked the beginning of a choral ensemble that has taken the Peoria Metro community, the State of Illinois, and our United States on musical journeys that have been described as “edutainment,” a rich blend of education and entertainment. Thus, every year the Heritage Ensemble presents two signature concerts, the Martin Luther King Jr., Concert in January and the Juneteenth concert in June.

Setting a tone for Change: Mrs. Reed came from a background in which annual celebrations of the 19th of June were full of fun. Activities within her Paris, Texas community were filled with picnics, parades, and concerts. All of these activities celebrated the achievements and heightened an awareness of African American history and culture. After relocating to Peoria to begin her teaching career, she noticed a glaring void of continuous cultural opportunities in this community. Furthermore, Mrs. Reed was disheartened to observe that this part of the country did not annually celebrate the 19th of June. In filling this cultural gap, Mrs. Reed has been instrumental in leading numerous community productions. These productions included: Dreamgirls, Sophisicated Ladies, Ain’t Misbehavin’, The Color Purple, and the Concert and Stage Production of Porgy and Bess. Change was taking place. Over 20 years ago Mrs. Sharon Samuels Reed, Founder and Artistic Director established The Heritage Ensemble and approximately ten years ago the Youth Heritage Ensemble!

Mission Statement: The Heritage Ensemble exists to celebrate the culture and history of African Americans through music. People of all cultures will be exposed to the diversity, beauty, richness, and complexity of musical literature born out of the African American Experience. Whether it is through our singing or the message in our music, the Heritage Ensemble strives to tear down walls and build bridges between all people. This diverse literature—spirituals, ragtime, jazz, gospel, work songs, hollers will be presented in a professional manner for the education and enjoyment of its members as well as for the entertainment and cultural enrichment of the community.

In staying ever true to the mission of the Heritage Ensemble, The Youth Heritage Ensemble was founded. The Youth Heritage Ensemble was established for young people in grades 7-12 to strengthen and nurture the youth of our community. In addition to performing a diverse set of musical selections, these young members have an opportunity to cultivate leadership, citizenship, and professional skills that will serve them well in their future careers. The legacy of the Heritage Ensemble is mirrored in the Youth Heritage Ensemble, blending the wisdom of experience with the excitement of youth! There is a necessity embedded in the times in which we live for parents, friends, and loved ones to encourage and support our Youth Heritage Ensemble.

We encourage you, your family, and your friends to spend Friday, June 19, 2020, at 7:30 pm on a virtual journey via YouTube or Facebook with the Heritage Ensemble. Together we shall move through time–encouraged, hopeful, and restored.