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San Antonio musicians build a 'musical bridge' to Black history

Musical Bridges Around the World
Ron Wilkins

About this time each year, the San Antonio arts organization Musical Bridges Around the World puts on its music festival with an international line-up.

Oddly, the next Musical Bridges Around the World concert has a connection to San Antonio schools. During last year’s pandemic lockdown, local schools found that teachers and students were grappling with how to talk about race and racism in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder.

“They said, ‘How can we showcase the beauty and the history of African American culture through music?’” Musical Bridges’ Suhail Arastu said.

Musical Bridges Around the World
Andrea Vocab Sanderson
Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Arts & Culture News Desk including The Guillermo Nicolas & Jim Foster Art Fund, Patricia Pratchett, and the V.H. McNutt Memorial Foundation.

Arastu knew of a woman named Cynthia Freeman Gibbs, who had just produced a short film on African American music. Gibbs had used San Antonio musicians in the film.

“And it starts all the way back with slave songs and moves through Negro spirituals and gospels, taking us up through ragtime, jazz, blues and hip-hop today,” Arastu said.

Using the film as a guide, Musical Bridges created this concert, called The Quilt: A History of African American Music. It will feature the musicians from that film, and premiere Sunday, Jan. 23, at 7 p.m. at the San Fernando Cathedral.

Beverly Houston 3.jpg
Musical Bridges Around the World
Beverly Houston

The entire ensemble was put together by pianist Aaron Prado.

“We’ve got Jonathan Alexander on percussion. Brandon Rivas, one of our own from Youth Orchestra of San Antonio,” Arastu said. “And we’ve got Beverly Houston, who’s no stranger to those who love jazz in San Antonio. As well as Veronica Williams, a mezzo-soprano, has performed with our symphony. Along with our poet laureate of San Antonio, Andrea Vocab Sanderson.”
Rounding out the group are Mockingbird Smith on guitar and trombonist Ron Wilkins, who’s worked with Dizzy Gillespie and Aretha Franklin.

“The concert is free and open to the public. We’re asking people to please register online and if they don’t have a chance to, they can do it at the door. But there is no cost and we welcome one and all,” he said.

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Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii