At about 7 pm on Wednesday (Aug. 14), singer Jimetta Rose stood alongside Broad Museum associate curator Sarah Loyer in the courtyard of neighboring restaurant Otium and told Billboard what she’d be doing that night on stage. Just steps away from a bar where guests sipped Perrier® & Juice Drink cocktails and bopped to a DJ spinning James Brown’s “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud,” Rose spoke of two separate performances to come. “One will be with my choir, Voices of Creation,” she said. “Come get healed. We’ll be healing ourselves through music. Then I’ll be singing with my trio.” We were warned.
Still, no one was prepared for the spiritual journey Rose would give attendees at the final installment of The Broad’s Black Fire Sessions, which celebrates their Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983 exhibit. The images recount the tumultuous era of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and its leading figures as well as what life was like for African Americans trying to provide for their families.
Just shy of 8:30, Jimetta led her Voices into The Broad’s Oculus Hall, all clad in white outfits with matching paint marking their faces, making them look more like a heavenly tribe than anything conventional. By pairing the spiritual energy which some — at best — only get by going to church on Sundays with, Rose’s stage presence and comfort with her Voices of Creation choir spent the next 30-odd minutes making good on the promise their joyful leader made in the courtyard.
Any guest who entered the room with the worries of the day on their mind seemingly left cured and cleansed. As Rose and crew formed a line to walk off stage and unwind in the Broad’s conference room, an emotionally overwhelmed Jimetta yelled “Group hug!” They huddled, embraced and packed up. All except for Rose, whose night was only at its halfway point. While she waited for round two, other marquee talents lit up sections of the building.
Legendary composer and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton, along with harpist Jacqueline Kerrod, served up a stirring set in the museum lobby. As did cellist Kelsey Lu, who sang and strummed wearing a tattered denim top, lime patent leather pants, and massive bejeweled brows.
Elsewhere, and in true Maurice Harris fashion, the floral designer and social activist bared all by ridding himself of clothes and immersing himself in his dynamic arrangements. Spoken word artist Beans moved the crowd with his simmering, politically-charged thoughts, bridging issues from decades ago to modern-day dysfunction. It all led to the grand finale: Jimetta Rose and her band.
Her closing act seesawed. At one point the set was moody and tender, like when she covered The Stylistics’ 1972 classic “People Make The World Go Round.” Then it became joyous and funky, using Afrojazz to make the audience dance for a steamy Rose, who was dabbing beads of sweat from her forehead while her guitarist and drummer kept the pace lively.
The night was truly a marriage of art and music, showing that — when done well — they are both ageless expressions from creatives brave enough to take note of what they and those around them were going through at one point, then share it.