New series will celebrate diverse, marginalized and underserved artists and audiences
Black Opry Revue is coming to Knoxville in June as the first performance of the Tennessee Theatre’s new series, “Pass the Mic: Creating a Stage for Change.”
The series of immersive arts events will provide a stage for artists from marginalized and underserved communities to share their art with a broader East Tennessee audience.
On Wednesday, June 8, the Black Opry Revue concert will officially kick off the “Pass the Mic” series.
“Thanks to a generous donation, we are excited to announce that we will be able to offer this concert for free,” Tennessee Theatre Executive Director Becky Hancock said. “We greatly appreciate the community members who value our mission and want to help us share this experience with anyone who would like to attend.”
The event will feature Chapel Hart, Kam Franklin, Jennah Bell and Songwriters in the Round: Roberta Lea, Nikki Morgan, Autumn Nicholas and Joy Clark. The concert starts at 7:30 p.m., and doors open at 6:30 p.m. with open seating available for attendees.
These black artists are both beloved and up-and-coming and represent a beautifully diverse range of country, blues, folk and Americana music:
- Chapel Hart – Consisting of sisters Danica and Devynn Hart along with cousin Trea Swindle, this Mississippi trio’s music has reached fans around the globe, earning Chapel Hart the title of “International Group of the Year,” as well as “International Song of the Year” for the single, “You Can Have Him Jolene,” in Scotland.
- Kam Franklin – A singer-songwriter, activist, writer, orator, model, visual artist and actress from Houston, Kam Franklin is best known for her work with the Gulf Coast soul band, The Suffers, as well as her unique collaborations.
- Jennah Bell – An Oakland-grown singer-songwriter whose ravenous musical curiosities inspired her own creative wonderland, Jennah Bell’s quirky songwriting and undefinable genre is a direct product of her proud Bay Area roots. Currently working on her debut studio album titled “Anatomy,” she pulls from a colorful palette of folk, soul, R&B, hip‐hop and bluegrass.
- Roberta Lea – Roberta Lea is a rising singer-songwriter, and fellow artists have called her Hampton Roads’ best kept secret in Virginia. Her single, “Sweet Baby Ray,” drove her to record her first country project, “Just A Taste,” showcasing the different flavors of country she infuses in her songwriting.
- Nikki Morgan – Nikki Morgan grew up in North Carolina listening to traditional gospel/Christian music and playing clarinet and oboe in the band, but it wasn’t until years later in Chicago that she found her first home as a performer and songwriter. She is a former winner of the Uncommon Ground Songwriting competition; she has been voted as a “Judge’s Pick” in the Nashville Rising Song contest; and recently had her single, “Love.Save.Me,” make it to the semifinal round of the International Songwriting Competition.
- Autumn Nicholas – A songwriter and performer who has amazed audiences around the country, Autumn Nichol’s latest single, “Dealing,” showcases her vocal range and lyrical sensibilities with pop-infused, soulful melodies and displays a raw, honest and emotional storytelling style.
- Joy Clark – New Orleans singer-songwriter Joy Clark’s music feels like a warm, fresh twist on the fervently familiar. With major influences such as Tracy Chapman and Lizz Wright, her tranquil yet ardent original creations boast a bluesy vibe with a splash of folk sensibility and a dash of alternative appeal.
In addition to the concert on June 8, Tennessee Theatre will host an educational event featuring Black Opry artist Kam Franklin on Tuesday, June 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the Old City Performing Arts Center. Beyond her musical talents, Franklin also is known for her unique collaborations, and both Forbes and Vice have featured her for activism and business ventures that seek to create an inclusive environment in the arts for female artists working in all mediums and from all backgrounds. This event is free to the public, and light refreshments will be served.
The “Pass the Mic” series was inspired in part by Black Opry. Created in 2021 as a response to Black artists and fans often being overlooked and disregarded by the country music industry, Black Opry serves as “a home for Black artists and Black fans of country, blues, folk, and Americana music.” Tennessee Theatre leadership and a community advisory group started meeting at the end of 2021 to create the “Pass the Mic” series, which was announced in February 2022. Following the Black Opry Revue performance on June 8, the theatre will announce additional artists and performances as part of the series.
“It is our hope to provide opportunities for new communities to experience the Tennessee Theatre and provide a stage for artists to share their craft,” Hancock said. “As a Southern venue that was segregated for the first 35 years of its existence, the Tennessee Theatre of today has a strong desire to partner with and feature artists of color and those from other marginalized communities, especially those that may experience systemic obstacles to greater commercial success, to demonstrate that it is truly a venue for all people.”
Not only will the theatre present regional talent through concerts, but each event also will incorporate other art forms through visual art galleries, spoken word performances, readings and other experiences featuring local artists. Each headlining artist also will be given the opportunity to discuss a social issue of importance to them and how it impacts the community.
After the events and concerts take place in person, Tennessee Theatre has partnered with Big Slate Media to produce a virtual product will be distributed via podcast and video to increase the accessibility of the theatre to more people and remove barriers to participation for the audience. As another facet of the initiative, community members will have opportunities to connect and interact through educational programs, such as masterclasses and workshops, and complementary partnerships with nonprofits.
“Our theatre is the stage, backdrop and narrative for so many beloved memories of people in our community and beyond,” Hancock said. “But we cannot be satisfied by the enjoyment of some, nor complacent in our role to uplift the arts for all – meaning all artists and all audiences. While the Tennessee Theatre has a way to go, we are excited about the opportunities for growth, diversity and inclusion that ‘Pass the Mic’ affords.”
About the Tennessee Theatre
Located in the heart of downtown Knoxville, the Tennessee Theatre opened in 1928 as a movie palace. The Tennessee Theatre is the Official State Theatre of Tennessee and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Tennessee Theatre is the region’s leading performing arts facility with advanced technology, staging and lighting that draws top entertainment to the Knoxville area. The Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation is a nonprofit organization tasked with maintaining and preserving the historic theatre and ensuring diverse arts and cultural entertainment remains in downtown Knoxville. For more information, visit www.tennesseetheatre.com.