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India.Arie’s fans know her thoughts and they were ready to hear their sister speak the truth. A packed Kennedy Center Concert Hall was the setting for Black Girls Rock! FEST. Arie, the multi-Grammy Award-winning talent was introduced by Beverly Bond, founder of Black Girls Rock (BGR). The two-night event was a first-time BGR collaboration with the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO). Bond then introduced an Arie super fan Roberta Flack, the iconic singer, pianist and composer. The Kennedy Center exploded when Flack was brought out in a wheelchair to thunderous applause. Flack, a Howard University alumna and former teacher in DC Public Schools, wanted Arie to know she was seen, appreciated and deserved flowers for her work. What a way to kick off the evening and an unimaginable thrill for me as Flack was my music teacher at the former Rabaut Junior High School.
Under the direction of Maestro Henry Panion, III, Ph.D., NSO, additional musicians and vocalists accompanied Arie, taking her best-loved songs to a higher level. Throughout the performance, Arie shared her pandemic revelations. It’s a theme that has played out for everyone. To illustrate her feelings, Arie curated quotes from a diverse mix of voices. Those quotes on a screen above the stage introduced and extended the meaning of songs performed during the evening.
“I think it is factual and common sense that we truly are an interconnected humanity,” Arie said framing her concert around her song “Prayer for Humanity.”
Arie and Panion had an infectious synergy. There were moments when the singer deviated from the playlist, but the conductor and NSO continued to groove with the flow. Not yielding to what I call over-marketing techniques, Arie has been successful because she sings with her heart. She also keeps her family near which contributes to her realness. With pride, Arie introduced family members to the audience. Her mother Joyce Simpson got applause because she designed the singer’s one-of-kind stage attire. The gowns, headwear, music, and quotes were the whole package at the Kennedy Center.
Lovers of Arie’s music were treated to her hits including “I Am a Queen,” “Steady Love,” “That Magic,” “I am Not my Hair,” and “I Am Ready for Love.” As she went through the playlist, I realized so many of Arie’s songs lead with the words “I am.” She continues to give listeners her all. Concluding her set, Arie returned for her encore to sing “Brown Skin.”
Speaking to audiences of all ages, one of the quotes Arie used was from children’s book author Anita Moorjani connecting with her album titled “Worthy.”
“No matter what people think or say about each other, we are worthy of being loved unconditionally just for who we are without having to earn that love. That is our birthright.”
With inspirational music and quotes, Arie gave us clarity on the role we each have to make positive change.