Exhibition highlights music's power to break racial barriers

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- "Breaking Barriers through Music: Albums from The Charles L. Blockson Collection of African Americana and the African Diaspora" will be displayed from March 17 to June 30, 2014, in Sidewater Commons, 102 Pattee Library.

“Music can create powerful connections between people, help us learn about different cultures, shatter stereotypes, question social injustices and inspire us to create the world as it should be. Its purpose extends beyond entertainment to educate, inspire, represent people, influence and change society, and provide social commentary," according to Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The albums in this exhibit helped to change the way people viewed each other from the 1930s through the civil rights movement and into the decades that followed. Through music, poetry, rhetoric and comedy, the albums allow the listener to appreciate and oftentimes experience viewpoints, different from their own.

"Negro Prison Songs," recorded in work fields by Alan Lomax in the 1940s, tell the story of the slave gang, the sharecropper system, the lawless work camp, the chain gang and the pen. Dick Gregory’s comedic album, "In White America," changed the way white America perceived African-Americans through his satiric political messages on segregation.

When Teddy Wilson joined the Benny Goodman trio in 1935, he became the first well-known black musician to play publicly in a racially integrated group. In the 1950s in what was still a controversial move, white jazz pianist Herb Ellis joined the Oscar Peterson trio. But hearts and minds changed with exposure to such great talent.

Eldridge Cleaver, recorded on the album "Dig," believed in transformation and wrote, “if a man like Malcolm X could change and repudiate racism, if I myself and other former Muslims can change, if young whites can change, then there is hope for America.”

For more information about The Charles L. Blockson Collection of African Americana and the African Diaspora or call 814-865-7931. The collection, administered by The Eberly Family Special Collections Library, is housed on the third floor of Pattee Library, west. The collection includes approximately 10,000 items, the majority of which are books that cover a wide range of subjects. There are also collections of sheet music, postcards, record albums and manuscript materials (letters, photographs, posters and programs) that document the lives of influential African-Americans, with a special emphasis on Paul Robeson.

The exhibition is open during regular library hours, available at 814-865-3063. For more information or if you anticipate needing accessibility accommodations or have questions about the physical access provided, call 814-863-4240.

Related musical

From the underground dance clubs of the 1950s comes “Memphis,” a Tony Award-winning best musical brimming with explosive dancing, irresistible songs and a thrilling tale of fame and forbidden love. The Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State will present the touring Broadway show at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 27, in Eisenhower Auditorium.

Inspired by actual events in the segregated south, “Memphis” concerns a radio DJ who wants to change the world and a club singer ready for her big break. It’s a show filled with laughter, soaring emotion and roof-raising rock 'n’ roll, gospel and R&B music.

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