Coalition of Theatres of Color Salutes Afrikan Poetry Theatre for 35 Years of Outstanding Poetry, Literary and Educational Programs in New York City

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Irving Burgie, 87, Composer of Harry Belafonte's Hit Songs "Day-O,"“Jamaica Farewell” and "Island In The Sun" is Featured Guest

The Coalition of Theatres of Color (CTC) honored its new member, Afrikan Poetry Theatre, for a milestone 35 years of making an impact on arts and education in New York City, on October 17 in Jamaica, Queens. The program featured Irving Burgie, 87, one of the greatest composers of Caribbean music, who has written over 35 songs for Harry Belafonte including the classic “Day-O.”

“On behalf of the Coalition of Theatres of Color, I am so pleased to be in Queens today to salute Afrikan Poetry Theatre on its 35th anniversary,” said Majorie Moon, second vice chair of Coalition of Theatres of Color and executive director, Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn. “We are honored that the Afrikan Poetry Theatre has recently joined the CTC and our mission to bring more people of color into our historic theatres for our special blend of entertainment and education. For over three decades, the Afrikan Poetry Theatre has been an important voice in New York City's cultural community. The CTC would like to congratulate John Watusi Branch for his leadership role on that impact.”

“The Coalition of Theatres of Color is important,” explained John Watusi Branch, executive director, Afrikan Poetry Theatre. “It brings experienced, tried and tested cultural and entertainment organizations together not only to collectively raise necessary funds for its successful operation, but also to offer to the New York area, a reservoir of cultural performances.”

Afrikan Poetry Theatre’s 35th Anniversary Grand African Ball on Saturday, November 5 at 259 Doughty Blvd in Inwood, New York will honor Irving Burgie, who has sold over 100 million records worldwide. Burgie attended the program and discussed composing Caribbean classics for Harry Belafonte like hits "Day-O," "Jamaica Farewell," "Island In The Sun," and "Angelina." Belafonte’s famed 1956 album “Calypso,” which was the first album in America to sell over one million copies, included 8 songs penned by Burgie.

The Grand African Ball will also honor poetry prodigy Autum Ashanté, 13, Councilman James Sanders Jr., Crystal Taylor, Bruce Brown and attorney Fearonce Lalande. Over the years, Afrikan Poetry Theatre has played a major role in solidifying and continuing the tradition of African American literature and Black poetry and has honored some of the finest African American poets and writers: Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, Haki Mahubuti, Askia Toure, Amiri Baraka,Sonia Sanchez, Alice Childress, Dudley Randall and Jayne Cortez.

“Afrikan Poetry Theatre has continued the open mic tradition for more than 30 years, even during the years of the lull in poetry,” said Branch. “When the resurgence of poetry came about as ‘spoken word,’ Afrikan Poetry Theatre was still there to open the doors for the new emerging artists.”

The Coalition of Theatres of Color (CTC) is a non-profit community of renowned multi-cultural theatre arts organizations in New York State. These institutions have joined forces to ensure sustainability and longevity of theatres of color in multicultural communities. Each institution brings over 25 years of artistic achievement with critically acclaimed and award-winning work and are known for nurturing the artistry of some of the world’s finest actors, directors, playwrights, producers, musicians and choreographers. New York City members are AUDELCO, Black Spectrum Theatre, Billie Holiday Theatre, H.A.D.L.E.Y Players, Mind-Builders, National Black Theatre, Negro Ensemble Co., New Federal Theatre, New Heritage Theatre Group, Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, and Paul Robeson Performing Arts Company. CTC’s chairman is acclaimed producer Woodie King. CTC is supported through grants from the New York City Council Committee, chaired by James Van Bramer, The New York Community Trust and The Nathan Cummings Foundation.

PHOTO CREDIT: Nat Valentine

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