From September 29 to October 1, Charlotte residents will have the opportunity to be transported to 1920’s Harlem at the peak of the Harlem Renaissance. Charlotte resident and artist Jermaine Lee is set to bring his musical ‘For the Love of Harlem’ back to the stage and will provide audience members a chance to look into the lives of some of the most iconic artists of the Harlem Renaissance.
“A lot of our heroes and our icons have been glorified, which they should be because they were amazing, but they also were human beings who had struggles and challenges and insecurities,” Lee explains. “Their artistic genius most audiences know about, but how they loved, who they loved, how they struggled to be recognized and appreciated and relevant, most people don’t know about that side of their lives, and so it’s just been a joy to watch audiences experience that.”
The play is set at the peak of the Harlem Renaissance and follows a weekend in the lives of several of the most famous artists of the time — Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen and Wallace Thurman — giving the audience the chance to learn a different side of these artists. Lee said he wanted to portray the reality these individuals experienced, one where they were outcasts in their own communities.
“W. E. B. Dubois, who was a prominent thinker and African American leader during that time … and others were a part of a sect that was more interested in homogenizing into white society, and Langston, Zora, Countee, Wallace and the young, ‘negro’ artists of that time were not interested in that,” Lee offers. “They didn’t want to blend in — they wanted to define black culture and for it to stand out on its own and be recognized as its own culture.”
‘For the Love of Harlem’s revival came about after Lee received a $50,000 grant from the inaugural ASC (Arts and Science Council) Founders Grant program. According to the ASC Charlotte website, the grants are meant to “support visionary artists who build and demonstrate an ongoing commitment to community in Charlotte-Mecklenburg by directly engaging residents through relevant and innovative cultural experiences.”
In a previous interview for Qnotes, Lee explained how important it was to tell the stories of these trailblazers, especially the aspects of their identities that often are overlooked.
“Many of the pioneers of the Harlem Renaissance were queer … they were queer in lifestyle, culture and behavior in the 1920s, which is incredible they were that unapologetically themselves,” Lee said. “It’s so enlightening and empowering to know the biggest movement in African-American culture was spearheaded by Black, queer people [and] it is important to me my community understands these people they love were a part of a community they sometimes hate.”
Showtimes for Lee’s production are:
- September 29 at 8 p.m.
- September 30 at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
- October 1 at 3 p.m.
The Parr Center is located on the campus of Central Piedmont Community College, at 1201 Elizabeth Avenue. Tickets are available at the BNS Productions website or on etix.com.