by Carla Peacher-Ryan
On Thursday, April 6, at the Cannon Center, Hattiloo Theatre, in partnership with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, presented an original performance - "The Strange Fruit". Conceived by Ekundayo Bandele, executive director of Hattiloo, the show is a compilation of work by the two presenting partners, as well as Collage Dance Collective, Le Chorale a cappella choir, with narratives from Rychetta Watkins and Phil Darius Wallace. It is a work that deals with lynching and was sparked by the work of the Lynching Sites Project of Memphis.
There was a well-attended panel discussion before the performance, led by Calley Anderson, with John Ashworth, Sharon Pavelda, Tom Carlson and Essence Davis, a high school student at St. George's, discussing the work of the LSP.
The show opened with a moving performance of the song made famous by Billie Holiday, 'Strange Fruit', by Le Chorale, an acapella group dedicated to preserving and performing Negro spirituals and other African American choral works, directed by Claudette Lehew.
Rychetta Watkins, performing portions of her one woman show about Ida B. Wells, "Iola's Southern Fields", shared stories about Wells' move to and work in Memphis, which culminated in Wells becoming the leading crusader in the anti-lynching campaign of the late 1900's and early 20th century - work she undertook as a result of the lynching of her good friend Thomas Moss, and two other men, Calvin McDowell and William Stewart in Memphis.
Phil Darius Wallace performed several pieces, including Between the World and Me, a poem by Richard Wright, as well as the speech that Malcolm X performed at the Organization of Afro-American Unity founding rally on June 28, 1964.
Dance performances by the dancers of the Collage Dance Collective (Artistic Director, Kevin Thomas), were interspersed throughout the program, accompanied by the musicians of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, who also performed several pieces.