Students at P.S. 114 Ryder Elementary gave an all-star performance and musical journey into the roots of African-American music from the 1700s to the present day in a performance titled, “I See the Rhythm…a Juneteenth Celebration” at their first performance honoring the federal holiday held in the school auditorium located at 1077 Remsen Avenue on Friday, June 10th.
“Juneteenth just became a national holiday last year so it’s fairly new,” performing arts and music teacher Natasha West said. “Students don’t really know why they aren’t in school that day so this is a way to use the arts to educate the students.”
The explanation of Juneteenth was explained in a video and short play during the performance where one student said, “Wow, I can’t believe slavery ended on June 19, 1865, and it took two years for the news to reach the slaves in Texas,” to which the other student replied, “That’s why Juneteenth is called ‘Freedom Day’ because it celebrates when the last enslaved people in the South were set free.”
Juneteenth dates back to 1865 and commemorates the end of slavery, but it was only last year on June 17, 2021, that President Joe Biden established it as a federal holiday to be celebrated on June 19th.
Performances began from the early days of slavery with African spirituals, drums and percussion to rhythm and blues, swing, jazz, gospel and hip-hop — a rich history of contributions to the American musical landscape.
A solo blues performance of Etta James’ “At Last” by a student received loud cheers and applause from the appreciative audience of her peers.
West, who has been teaching for almost 20 years at P.S. 114, said that there were 11 classes performing in the show, and they learned their parts in about three months, with the solo performer learning her song in only a week.
She said that although July 4th was about the United States being freed, there were people who still didn’t have their civil rights, so she teaches about civil rights, equality and equity in America and looks at the things that are going on today. She explained how many students are making connections with the past and present, and students are asking, “Why are we still going through the same situations that were happening so many years ago?”
She wants kids to think about how we can change as a society and what things they can do that can make a difference, as that’s how to build future leaders.
“If you don’t show where we’ve been, where we’re going, where we’re at, we don’t know what we need to change, so I think now these young leaders need to focus on how they can be the changemakers in society,” West said.