Great Men of
Written and directed by Elizabeth Van Dyke.
Henry Street Settlement
466 Grand Street near Pitt
March 10 - April 11, 2004
A six-man cast guides us through the history of this music — with a minimum of history and a maximum of music — from slavery-era work songs through civil-rights era styles that make plain where the soul in soul music came from. There's only a little bit of explanation of what's going on — many of the songs are prefaced only by an introduction of the artists. But an alert observer might pick up the gradual emergence of frontmen and multipart harmony, the assimilation of blues and jazz, and the advent of show-business values and stars.
The music mirrors black history — in fact, it's an element of black history — and we discern its role from early in the show. Singing lightens the work for a group of slaves, and we soon see what else it's good for. Scolded for singing to their African gods, the men learn to substitute biblical figures for the ones they're familiar with.