Cellist Yo-Yo Ma returns a greeting from Turner Elementary School students by stretching out on the steps at Anacostia High School during a special visit on Nov. 30. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)

As part of his “Bach Project,” internationally renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma spent Friday, Nov. 30 in Anacostia, performing live at WeAct Radio, co-hosting an assembly at Anacostia High School and participating in an artist talk at The Anacostia Arts Center — all in conjunction with the Kennedy Center’s Arts Across America project.

The Bach Project aims to have Ma perform the famed composer’s six cello suites in locations around the world, tied to community action events. The daylong series of activities throughout D.C. also featured singer, bassist and composer Esperanza Spalding, who joined Yo-Yo Ma and an entourage of Kennedy Center staffers at the various locations.

D.C. was fifth stop so far for the project, which began in August in Denver. Prior to Ma’s performance at WeAct Radio, station founder Kymone Freeman asked the cellist what brought him to the Anacostia neighborhood.

“What brings me here today is what I hear about Anacostia,” Ma said. “I don’t know about Anacostia being poor or rich. I feel that there is an energy in this community and voices that need to be heard, that are beautiful voices, energetic voices, [and] talented voices. What’s amazing is everywhere I go I find people working in culture, in music, in spirituality, in the dramatic arts, and painting and words. For what purpose? To actually strengthen their communities.”

For the standing-room-only crowd, Ma performed from Bach’s solo cello suite, which he said was some of the earliest music he learned at the age of 4.

“It’s actually not painful to learn something if you do it incrementally, and so I’ve lived with this music for 58 years,” Ma said during a recent performance for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts series.

The group’s next stop was Anacostia High School for an assembly which featured hip-hop and R&B performances by students, a panel featuring successful professional artists and community leaders including NBA player development director Alexys Feaster and R&B singer Raheem DeVaughn, and another performance by Ma and Spalding.

Kicking off the assembly, Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter said Ma “is an inspiration to all of us.”

“He says we can be more than who we are as an individual by using our superpowers and each of us has superpowers to give back, so that’s what we’re doing here with Arts Across America,” Rutter said of the Kennedy Center project that aims to use art to provide connection and inspiration in all 50 states and D.C.

For more information on the Arts Across America project, go to https://cms.kennedy-center.org/education/arts-across-america.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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