Union County celebrates Black History Month with free jazz concert

UNION COUNTY, NJ — The Union County Board of County Commissioners, through the Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs, is celebrating this year’s Black History Month, with the theme of “African Americans in the Arts,” with a free jazz performance by The Bob DeVos Jazz Quartet, featuring Lance Bryant. The event will provide a unique exploration of jazz music through narration and performance on Thursday, Feb. 22, at 7 p.m., at the Union County Performing Arts Center, Hamilton Stage, 360 Hamilton St., Rahway.

“The theme for this year’s Black History Month is a significant one. By understanding how music had the power to provide comfort and solace during difficult times, while also capturing moments of hopefulness and joy, we can better grasp the African American journey through history,” said Union County Commissioner Chairperson Kimberly Palmieri-Mouded. “The Commissioner Board and I are proud to honor Black History Month with this free event and we invite you to join us for a great evening celebrating the arts.”

This year’s theme, “African American and the Arts,” will focus on celebrating the dynamic African American culture and its global influence in the arts, music, literature and film industry. Union County will host the Hamilton Stage’s first-time visitors: Bob DeVos and the Bob DeVos Jazz Quartet, along with the talented saxophonist and vocalist, Lance Bryant.

Bryant is a versatile musician who performs in the New York/New Jersey area. He built an impressive career as an arranger, composer, saxophonist and singer, and has performed in several orchestras, Broadway shows and even been featured in Spike Lee’s film, “Malcolm X.” His soulful sound is rooted in his upbringing in the Baptist church, where he established a spiritual connection to his art, and has been capturing that for audiences ever since. Notably, Bryant served as the director of Instrumental Music at the Fountain Baptist Church in our very own Summit for six years.

With more than 50 years of experience as a guitarist, bandleader and composer, DeVos developed his signature style — groovy, distinguished, with a full-bodied sound that can effortlessly transition between jazzy blues and Latin funk. Bob had the pleasure of recording and touring with some of the biggest names in the organ jazz industry – Trudy Pitts, Richard “Groove” Holmes and Sonny Stitt, and Jimmy McGriff and Hank Crawford. Notably, he has also recorded for musical legends Frank Sinatra and Gladys Knight.

“It is a great privilege to invite our residents and visitors of Union County to come together to celebrate and learn about its diverse cultures,” said Commissioner Bette Jane Kowalski, liaison to the Cultural & Heritage Advisory Board. “Black History Month is a perfect time to recognize and appreciate the exceptional creativity and musical talent of African Americans. It is also an opportunity for us to understand how their legacy still influences our community today.”

The event will also include the presentation of the 12th annual Chester Holmes Humanitarian award, which was established by the Freeholder Board, now Commissioner Board, in 2012, as a highlight of Black History Month honoring the former County Freeholder and Rahway resident Chester Holmes, who died later that year in 2012. An accomplished civic leader who loved the Union County community, Holmes was a former police officer, community volunteer and member of the Army National Guard. He was the owner of his own company, Holmes Security, and a former Rahway councilman. This program is funded in part by a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a Division of Cultural Affairs in the Department of State; and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Admission to this event is free of charge, but tickets are required. To reserve a ticket, visit www.ucnj.org/bhm.

To receive more information on the entire Black History Month event lineup, residents can visit www.ucnj.org/bhm or contact Judith Guest, Union County Office of Community Engagement and Diversity, at [email protected] or 908-527-4388.