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Thursday, February 25, 2021

‘Gainesville Live!’ Concert Series celebrates Black History Month

Gainesville’s longest-running concert series presents a three-show virtual sequence featuring regional Black artists

Decyo McDuffie will close out the Black History Month concert series Feb. 26.
Decyo McDuffie will close out the Black History Month concert series Feb. 26.

Gainesville’s longest-running concert series may not congregate on Bo Diddley Community Plaza this year, but that won’t stop it from showcasing local Black artists.

To celebrate Black History Month, the “Gainesville Live!” concert series will present three online shows highlighting Black artists from the region. The artists will stream their sets from Facebook and perform original material and selections from Black composers.

The “Gainesville Live!” series usually takes place on Bo Diddley Plaza from May to October, presenting 26 shows total every Friday featuring local and regional musicians. When the 2020 season was canceled due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the artists slated to perform shifted to livestreaming their sets remotely. 

David Ballard, the events coordinator for the city of Gainesville, said the format turned out to be a great success, so the city decided to employ it to celebrate Black History Month.

"Gainesville Live!” will consist of three different performances from artists spanning across the genre spectrum. The first show, which took place Feb. 12, featured renowned Tallahassee trumpet player Longineu Parsons and pianist Joanna Sobkowska, known together as Duo Paloma, performing a selection of classical and jazz pieces from Black composers. The second show is Feb. 19 featuring Faith & Majesty, a local sister duo specializing in original indie-folk compositions, and the final show Feb. 26 will feature Decyo McDuffie, a jazz vocalist and UF student.

“We wanted a really good sampling of different styles and different genres,” Ballard said.

The artists were booked with the focus of highlighting local talent, Ballard said. With artists like Faith & Majesty performing original selections and Decyo McDuffie introducing jazz standards to a younger generation, Ballard said the acts represent promising up-and-comers in the local scene.

“That’s new Black voices right there,” he said.

McDuffie, a 21-year-old UF entomology senior, will close the series, livestreaming his performance with a two-piece backing band. His set will consist of songs from classic jazz artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.

“It’ll be a tribute to my favorite Black jazz artists that have inspired me not only as a vocalist, but just as a Black male in America,” he said.

After growing up singing in church choirs and listening to classic R&B artists such as Al Green and Diana Ross, McDuffie said he fell in love with older music. His passion for jazz, however, didn’t arrive until high school when he discovered musical theater. He said those selections were heavily influenced by jazz standards, which led him to research more into the genre and its history.

Jazz, McDuffie said, is Black art form at its core and important to showcase during Black History Month. He said the genre not only highlights the talent of the performers but also the struggle and turmoil the Black community faced at the time of jazz’s inception.

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“Jazz is a way for Black musicians to express their culture and express the sounds of what was going on in that time,” he said. “I think I would be remiss to be a jazz musician and not push that same agenda.” 

In bringing jazz to the concert series, McDuffie said he hopes to spotlight the lengthy history of Black jazz musicians in America and highlight their contributions to music and Black history.

“We’ve had wonderful Black musicians and artists that have pushed along this music that we still listen to today and revere today,” he said.

The series will be streamed via Facebook on both the Free Fridays page and the artists’ pages. Keeping with Free Fridays tradition, viewers can stream “Gainesville Live!” at no cost.

Contact Heather Bushman at hbushman@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @hgrizzl.

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