Performing Arts Groups Respond to Charleston Massacre at Uptown Church

THERE'S A DETAIL from last month’s shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston that musician Tyrone Jefferson can’t shake.

It’s the part where confessed gunman Dylann Roof sat for the duration of the Bible study that preceded the shootings. That bit of information "surprised" Jefferson, he says, and it's stayed with him for weeks.

“That part just got me,” Jefferson says. “So much so, that I wrote a new piece about it.”

Jefferson’s group, A Sign of the Times of the Carolinas, will perform that piece tonight for On the Hook, a free event series that kicks off at uptown’s Little Rock AME Zion Church. Five Charlotte performing arts groups will come together with live music and theatrical works as part of tonight's program, orchestrated as a response to the massacre. On the Hook comes with support from the Arts & Science Council, SOLID, and the hosting church. The groups involved are On Q Productions, One Voice Chorus, The Possibility Project: Charlotte, A Sign of the Times of the Carolinas, and XOXO. A Sign of the Times is personally tethered to the Charleston massacre. Drummer Tommy Green's grandfather painted a prominent mural at the church. And saxophonist Howard Risher was once son-in-law to Ethel Lance, one of the nine victims killed during the shootings.

Jefferson believes such a performance is an ideal platform for promoting change. “For me, performing arts aren’t interested in the politics of things,” Jefferson says. “You’re going to get an honest appraisal of what’s happening in the world. This is not something that should happen anywhere. And we have to make a statement.”

Jefferson is the executive director and founder of A Sign of the Times of the Carolinas, a nonprofit group that performs spoken word, music, dance, and offers educational workshops. (Jefferson also spent decades as a musical director and trombonist for James Brown.) The Charlotte group’s focus is the contributions of Africans and African-Americans throughout history. Though some language may be held back out of respect for the church, Jefferson says, attendees can expect frank performances and dialogue. The hope is that ongoing On the Hook events help brings the entire community in Charlotte together.

“I hope we’re just able to reach into the hearts of people,” Jefferson says. “We’re not here to rationalize this event. We just want to stir something.”

For Jefferson, the event relates back to the reasons he started the nonprofit—and even how it got its name. He recalls growing up with the phrase “a sign of the times." It was often used by adults to describe the state of the world and its brokenness. “And I took that for my company,” Jefferson says. “It is a sign of the times. It’s a sign of the time for people to make changes. It’s time for people to do something.”

Tonight's event starts at 6 p.m. Little Rock AME Zion Church is located at 401 N McDowell St.

Categories: Arts + Culture, Revue