It’s the middle of June and African-American Music Appreciation Month is just getting into overdrive with this Saturday’s launch of the art exhibition, Motown to Def Jam. The project is an unprecedented collaboration between four Harlem art galleries featuring over 40 visual artists creating specially commissioned pieces inspired by songs from the Chess, Stax, Motown, Philadelphia International and Def Jam Records catalogs.

On June 15, ArtCrawl Harlem presented the kickoff—a four-hour trolley bus tour to each gallery led by expert guides including media veteran Flo Anthony, pop culture expert Patrick Riley, historian John T. Reddick and arts renaissance man, Walter Rutledge. The day culminated with a dinner gala at Broadway Housing Communities' Rio Galleries featuring special performances by R&B songstress, Meli’sa Morgan, Annette Taylor 2013 winner of The Howard Stern Subway Talent Contest, bass virtuoso Lawrence Wilson and teenage jazz sensation, Solomon Hicks paid tribute to the legendary labels through song. For tickets click here.

One of the highlights of the exhibition will be the opportunity to see the visual arts debut of Aanisah Hinds, daughter of Grammy-winning singer Macy Gray. For Hinds the project is her chance to let the world know that talent runs deep in the family beyond music. “I’ve been painting for five years now and I’m just at a point where I feel like people other than my art teachers should see my work,” says the 18-year-old emerging artist. “I mean what is art if there’s no one to see it? So Motown to Def Jam is the perfect platform for me to share my work and perspective on life. Plus this project is significant because it appreciates the history of our music.” The exhibition runs until July 26 with a series of free youth tours, gallery talks and more. [Editorial Disclosure: writer curates the exhibition].

While Hinds makes her visual arts debut her mother, Gray will perform at the new NYC venue SubCulture. On June 19th and 20th, the singer will collaborate with acclaimed jazz composer David Murray and his Infinity Quartet. Together, they will bring Stomping and Singin’ the Blues’, which bridges blues, pop, soul, and jazz, to their four performances. Previously, the duo has showcased original material as well as innovative jazz covers like Arcade Fire's "Maps" and Kanye West's "Love Lockdown.” For tickets click here.

One of the goals of African-American Music Appreciation Month is to honor the unsung and underrated talent that are deserving of increased exposure. Few of today’s singers are as deserving of that attention and praise as the self-proclaimed “underrated” singer-songwriter, Syleena Johnson. Currently she can be found on TV One’s hit reality show, “R&B Divas.” But this month she is making her way up and down the east coast with performances on June 22nd in Washington D.C. at Howard Theatre and June 23rd in NYC at the Highline Ballroom. For tickets click here.

The eye of legendary photographer, Kwame Brathwaite, has captured many of African-American Music Appreciation Month’s most revered talent. He will share some of those images at the Great Moments of Soul, photography exhibition to be held at the Dwyer Cultural Center, June 1-June 30th every Friday 4-6 pm.

Brathwaite has many images and stories to share from being up close and personal with icons such as Labelle, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye and James Brown. According to Brathwaite it was Brown who was responsible for what could have been the largest celebrity plane crash ever. The story takes place in 1974 when Brathwaite and a host of music legends were at the airport ready to take-off for a 12-hour, three-night long concert held in Kinshasa, Zaire. The music festival was in conjunction with “The Rumble in the Jungle,” the epic fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

“That almost never happened since James Brown insisted on taking all his musical equipment on the plane even though they said they shipped it over. The plane was so overloaded it almost crashed on takeoff,” reveals Brathwaite. “Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Bill Withers, Miriam Makeba and Celia Cruz—all of those artists could have been in the biggest plane crash in history.” Fortunately the issue was resolved and a less tragic version of history was indeed made. For more information on the exhibition call: 212-222-3060.

From Motown to Def Jam to Great Moments of Soul let the celebration of African-American Music Appreciation Month begin.


The Harlem Arts Alliance is a not for profit arts service organization celebrating 10 years of service to a prestigious list of members such as the Apollo Theater, the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, Columbia University, Harlem Stage (Aaron Davis Hall) and over 850 more cultural/arts institutions and individuals. The weekly column, Harlem Arts Alliance Presents: On the “A” w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture and entertainment scene in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of event/media content production company, Souleo Enterprises, LLC.