Gov. and Mrs. Deval Patrick were honored guests last night for a performance at Northeastern’s John D. O’Bryant African-American Institute. The event featured the results of a collaboration four decades ago between playwright and Northeastern distinguished artist-in-residence Ed Bullins and the governor’s father, the late jazz musician Pat Patrick. The work, titled “Ascendance: Movement One,” had never been performed before Thursday night.
Patrick thanked Bullins for his service to the world through his art, and for the opportunity to gain deeper insight into his father’s work. “I always knew that music was what my father did,” said Patrick. “As an adult I’m now learning that music was who he was.”
Bullins met Patrick senior in New York City during the late 1960s just after Bullins’ plays began to receive national acclaim. At the time, Patrick was a saxophonist in the jazz group Sun Ra Arkestra. The two artists began collaborating on a musical at Harlem’s New Lafayette Theater. When the theater closed in 1972, Bullins and Patrick lost touch.
“It was a very loving period of my life,” said Bullins of the collaborative time with Patrick. “[About two years ago,] I came across these works in my archives and thought, ‘This would make interesting material.’”
With the recent rise of Barack Obama, he was drawn to the idea of using “everyman stories” to relay a message about the times. With the help of Dan Hunter, a fellow playwright who also advocates for arts and culture at the Statehouse, they received the governor’s blessing. The project then got underway under the direction of Lois Roach, an award-winning producer and director, and facilitator for Northeastern’s Stony Brook Initiative.
Dr. Richard O’Bryant, director of the O’Bryant Institute, welcomed the audience of about 100 people from Northeastern and the greater community, stressing the importance of working together across generations. “Tonight is a celebration of a journey,” he said. “We ask ourselves, ‘How can we unite as brothers and sisters? How can we survive and thrive?’”
President Joseph Aoun thanked the Patricks for their support of the event. Building on the theme of bridging generations, he pointed to the leadership of both Richard O’Bryant and his father John D. O’Bryant, for whom the O’Bryant Institute is named.
He also affirmed the importance of the institute to the University’s values and mission. “This institute is a focal point for our community on campus and for the community around us,” he said.
The arrangements, by Northeastern professor of music and African-American studies Emmett Price, formed a retrospective on love through the story of a couple that had been married for 40 years. Actor-singers Charles Clark and Fulani Haynes, and teenage dancers Tyrone Perry and Delinda Sales delivered performances to music by Kyle Miles (bass), Tim Smith (drums), Craig Hill (saxophone) and Price (keyboard).
“I was very pleased about how well it went,” Roach said after the show. “There’s something magical about crossing the ages,” she explained, referring to the intergenerational cast. “Art has the power to…create connections. Already, these guys are planning to continue to work together. How cool is that.”