Black History Month: Six locally and nationally renowned Black artists from the past and present

James Baldwin, Nov. 6, 1979, Black History Month
Photo courtesy of Ralph Gatti, Agence France-Presse

The Harlem Renaissance and the African American origin of Rock n’ Roll are commonly forgotten aspects of American History, but they have both had profound effects on American culture. 

The Harlem Renaissance created a new way for race to be viewed in the United States and eventually led to the Civil Rights Movement, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

America owes much of its art, literature and, particularly, music to the Black community. Present-day Black artists continue to create profound art, and previous artists’ work continues to affect people even today. 

Here are six artists to look at not only during Black History Month but all year long:

Crystal Z. Campbell is a multidisciplinary artist, experimental filmmaker and writer, according to her website. Campbell’s work covers many topics including giving voice to “public secrets,” as demonstrated by the work “Notes from Black Wall Street.” Recently, Campbell was the juror for Boise State’s 2022 Annual Student Juried Exhibition

James Baldwin, Nov. 6, 1979, Black History Month
[Photo of James Baldwin on Nov. 6, 1979.]
Photo courtesy of Ralph Gatti, Agence France-Presse

James Baldwin was an American writer and activist whose works engaged with racial as well as queer issues. Baldwin was heavily involved in the civil rights movement. In a 1965 conference, he said, “My story, once told, will liberate America. The possibility of liberation — the necessity of becoming responsible for one’s own life — is what most people most profoundly fear.” His short story “Sonny’s Blues” is a classic and a must-read. 

Ava DuVernay is a filmmaker based in Los Angeles, California. DuVernay is most famous for her historical film, “Selma,” but has directed, written and produced many films and television shows. Her documentary film “13th” was nominated for and won many awards. DuVernay also founded Array, an independent film distribution and resource collective, in 2010 to help advocate for filmmakers of color, particularly women filmmakers. 

Sidney Poitier, actor and civil rights activist, paved the way for many Black actors in Hollywood by refusing films that included negative stereotypes and demanding equal pay. Poitier was the first Black man to win an Academy Award in 1964 for the film “Lilies of the Field.” Poitier passed away in early January of this year, but his impact will be long-lasting. 

Harriet Jacobs was an abolitionist and writer in the late 1800s. Her work “Incidents in the Life of Slave Girl” is a lesser-known American classic. Jacobs was born into slavery in 1813 and escaped in 1842. She helped found a free Black school run by African Americans in 1861. Her life and work inspired Pulitzer-prize-winning author, Colson Whitehead.

Dayo “Ariwo” Ayodele and Cathima Kodet are local Black music artists and members of Boise’s Afrosonics. Ayodele is the group’s leader and hails from the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria. He is a percussionist and songwriter. Kodet is a native of Congo-Brazzaville and a former refugee. He is also a percussionist and dancer. The Afrosonics seek to bring a diverse, “genre-twisting” sound by purposefully including musicians from all backgrounds, particularly new American musicians. The Afrosonics will be performing at Treefort Music Fest in March.

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