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September 29, 2023

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Celebrating Black history through song

The voices chime together in a melody “Follow the drinking gourd, follow the drinking gourd, for the old man is a-waitin’ to carry you to freedom, follow the drinking gourd.”

These are the words to the chorus of a song titled “The Drinking Gourd” and was sung to a group of elementary students by Courtney Cleveland, DeAnna Patterson, LaRiche’ Jones, Marcus Bedinger, Joshua Jones and Dean Bryson, students of the College of Musical Arts.

These six students have traveled to five schools, including Ridge Elementary where this performance took place yesterday, to help celebrate Black History Month.

All six students participated and came up with a performance that was geared toward helping elementary kids understand Black History Month and the important figures who have impacted the African American community.

“This wasn’t my idea, and I didn’t want this to be a me production,” Cleveland said. “The people involved and I came together and came up with different ideas of how to put this together.”

The group’s main goal, however, was to keep the students entertained.

“We wanted to try and keep them interested as possible,” Cleveland said. “We don’t want to lose them and we want them to take something home with them at the end of the program.”

To keep the children interested, the group presented the information in a new way – through song and narration.

The presentation consists of songs from the slavery period, gospel tunes, the jazz period, civil rights movement and the Motown period. They began the performance with music about slavery from 1660s and ended with music from Motown movement of the 1970s.

Important historical figures and musical legions were talked about, including Rosa Parks, George Washington Carver, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Louis Armstrong and James Brown.

Ridge Elementary teachers and students prepared for the visit by incorporating aspects of the performance into their curriculum.

“We found out in the fall that this group was coming to perform, and we thought that this would be a great opportunity to plan ahead,” said Stacey Higgins, reading specialist at Ridge Elementary. “We incorporated the figures talked about in the presentation into our general curriculum.”

To do this, students throughout the grades were exposed to different African American historical figures who would be talked about in the performance done by the BGSU students.

“This helps them understand their place in the world,” Higgins said. “It shows them how one person can change the world.”

The students incorporated this throughout their performance also. You don’t have to be old to make a difference, said a student in the performance.

The performance ended with the singing of the Black National Anthem.

“Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring,” sang the performers to the children of Ridge Elementary School.

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