Newark Library Salutes Lena Horne, Ethel Waters & Black Theatre

NEWARK — Two of old Hollywood’s biggest black stars, and the vitality of Newark theatre, will be celebrated as part of the Newark Public Library’s 2012 Black History salute, which extends into March.

On Wednesday, March 7, the Library will present “A Tribute to Ethel Waters & Lena Horne, Black Ladies on White Broadway,” which includes a screening of the films, “Cabin in the Sky” and “Pinky” from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the 4th floor auditorium.

Both films were milestones that heralded a new era for blacks in film. But they also illustrated the constrictions of segregation.

“Cabin in the Sky,” directed by Vincent Minnelli and adapted from the Broadway play, was the first big studio picture starring an all black cast and was boycotted by some theatre owners, particularly in the South, when it was released in 1943.

“Pinky,” directed by Elia Kazan, starred Ethel Waters as a laundress whose granddaughter passes for white, although in the 1949 film, a Caucasian actress played the granddaughter’s role.

Dr. Linda Caldwell Epps of Seton Hall University will lead a workshop from 2 to 4 p.m. in the James Brown African American Room titled Pinky Under the Microscope, and author Donald Bogle will give a talk on his Lena Horne and Ethel Waters books from 6 to 8 p.m. in the 4th floor auditorium.

Also on March 7, Doc Gibbs will perform “World of Percussion!” for families at the Vailsburg Branch Library, 75 Alexander Street at 5:30 pm.

On Saturday, March 10, the Library will host a discussion entitled The State of Black Theatre featuring a panel discussion with poet and playwright Amiri Baraka, who gained fame in the 1960s with his controversial play “Dutchman” and founded the experimental “Spirit House” in Newark during that era. Other panelists are Phillip Thomas, executive; and actress Marie Thomas. The event will be held in the Main Library’s Centennial Hall from 12 noon to 3 p.m.

On Wednesday, March 14 the Library presents “Doc Gibbs: World of Percussion!” at 10:30 a.m. in the Main Library’s Centennial Hall and at 5:30 p.m. at the Weequahic Branch Library, 355 Osborne Terrace. Gibbs will lead the audience on a rhythmic world tour.

The events are part of the Library’s Black History Month series of programs and exhibitions exploring the powerful and often overlooked history of black theatre, from Newark’s groundbreaking companies of the 1960s to Broadway stars like Ethel Waters and Lena Horne.

Entitled “We Wear the Mask: Black Theatre” in Newark & Near, From 1700s to 2012, the series features an exhibition of memorabilia and photos curated by Sandra L. West and displayed in the Library’s 2nd floor gallery where it is on view through March 24.

According to Wilma Grey, Newark Public Library Director, “African American writers, producers, and performers have a deep and wonderful history in the American theatre. They played a major role in creating its vitality and helping to maintain its popularity despite the many obstacles they faced. And some of Newark’s finest writers, producers, actors, and theatre companies were a large part of this history. Their work and support have helped to make American theatre, particularly Black dramatic theatre, an important pillar of our nation’s artistic and cultural tradition.’’

Funding for the Library’s Black History Month activities and exhibits has been provided by a generous grant from the PNC Foundation.

All programs are free and open to the public. For more information or to arrange a tour of the exhibit, please call 1-973-733-5411. In case of inclement weather, call 1-973-733-7800 to determine whether the Library is open.

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