UMass Amherst Celebrates Black History Month

AMHERST, Mass. –The University of Massachusetts Amherst continues its observance of Black History Month with a variety of activities celebrating African-American culture and heritage. Among the notable events for the UMass Amherst community are a visit by acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee on Feb. 17 and a Harlem Renaissance Ball in the Campus Center on Feb. 19.

Spike Lee will speak at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 17, in the Curry Hicks Cage. Students, faculty and staff may attend. As a producer, writer, director and actor, Lee has established himself as one of Hollywood''s most important and influential filmmakers with critically acclaimed films such as Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Crooklyn, and 25 th Hour. His work is technically original, politically inspired, and often controversial. Lee''s 11th film, He Got Game, instantly hit number one at the box office. He has also produced an Academy Award-nominated documentary for HBO, 4 Little Girls, about the 1963 bombing of a Baptist church in Atlanta. Lee is the author of several books about filmmaking, including Best Seat in the House. His appearance at UMass is sponsored by the Office of Student Affairs and Campus Life.

The Harlem Renaissance Ball will be held starting at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 19 in the Campus Center auditorium. Organized by the Student Activities Center, the preparation for the ball has drawn on the expertise of faculty in Afro-American studies, English, and music, the staff of UVC-TV 19 (the student-run TV station), and the creative energies of staff members and students. Students, faculty and staff may attend; tickets are required.

The semi-formal ball will kick off at with guests enjoying hors d''oeuvres and a cash bar. They''ll also be able to immerse themselves in the art and music of the era with a multimedia presentation and recorded jazz. At 8 p.m., the live music and dancing will begin with the Jeff Holmes Big Band. The 15-piece ensemble will play jazz and blues, highlighting the sounds of the Harlem Renaissance in the music of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and others. The Harlem Renaissance lasted from the 1920s until the 1940s. It saw a flowering of work by African-American artists, musicians, and intellectuals.

The following programs are open to the public as well as the UMass Amherst community:

Swing Dance: On Thursday, Feb. 10 in the Student Union Ballroom the UMass Ballroom Dance Club will teach swing dance as part of its Mix It Up Dance Series. No partners needed.

Jon Bean Ensemble: The ensemble, featuring standards and original music played by undergraduate students, will perform on Tuesday, Feb. 15, from 11:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Cape Cod Lounge of the Student Union.

Jazz Ensemble: On Tuesday, Feb. 22, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. in the Cape Cod Lounge of the Student Union, the Student Activities Center will present Jeff Holmes, director of the award-winning 20-piece Jazz Ensemble I. A variety of period and contemporary works for the big band will be offered. This is a performance given by the department of music and dance.

Author Visit: Elaine Bartlett, the subject of the book, “Life on the Outside,” will tell the story of her release from prison after serving 16 years for a single sale of cocaine. She will speak on Tuesday, Feb. 22, at 7 p.m. in the Student Union Ballroom. “Life,” written by Jennifer Gonnerman, was a National Book Award finalist.

Events held earlier this month included raising of the Black American Heritage flag at the New Africa House, an appearance by renowned poet Sonia Sanchez, and a performance by the Soweto Gospel Choir.