Janice Harrington also known as “The Lady of Jazz, Blues and Gospel is a multi-talented North American artist. Her musical career took-off in 1969 when she started doing tours for the United States Organisation, supporting their troops by performing around South East Asia during the Vietnam War. She has worked with artists such as Billy Daniels, Lloyd Bridges and Frank Sinatra Jr. Famously, she sang for Bishop Desmond Tutu after he received the Nobel Peace Prize, and sang with the Kenn Lending Blues Band as the opening act for a B.B. King concert. As well as being a talented performer, she has written two musicals; Streets of Harlem and What My Eyes Have Seen.
Ms. Harrington is renowned as an ambassador of music and culture, bringing her programs of Authentic American Music and Learn English With Music to children around the world. She is the creator of a non-profit society which organises workshops and master classes in schools for children off all ages in different countries such as Romania, Israel, Bulgaria, Larvia, Thailand. In Germany, Mrs.’s Harrington activity has been concentrating more on working with school children and people with disabilities.
Mrs Harrington kindly spoke to a member of the ICD news (06.11.2009 – Interview conducted by Holly Perman Turnbull) about the important role music can play in cultural diplomacy and the triumph of rock ‘n’ roll and jazz music in crossing the Iron Curtain.
First of all, I would just like to ask you what you are singing about this evening, what is the project about and what is your concept?
I would really just like to get the audience involved. My work shops mainly focus on children, as I go to schools and teach them about the history of black American music from an African perspective, for example about enslavement, the auction block, the crossing and the plantations, so I sing a few freedom and spiritual songs about things they already know, to get them involved. This is soft diplomacy, and this is what the congress is all about. It is what I do at the cultural envoy for the United States Department. We go to places like Israel, Palestine, Thailand, Bulgaria, Romania and we talk about Black American history, because normally when I do this program, on that level, it is during Black History month, which is February. Through the year I go to different kinds of schools. This week, I just came from a Gemeinschaft Schule in Schleswig Holstein, and we had 400 children from the ages of 10-17 who were really unruly and by the time we finished, they were singing so well and they really gained confidence and had fun.
What do you think it is about music that makes it such a powerful tool to bring people together?
It’s the international language. You may not be able to speak the language, but when you sing, people either know the song, or are willing to learn it.
We have spoken about the role of the Jazz Ambassadors during the Cold War and how Jazz brought people together who had different political ideologies. What do you think Jazz represents that people appreciate?
Those days you had Louis Armstrong and he was playing pop songs, which were basically the New Orleans songs. All the pop music that he sang, was feel good music, it is a feel good music. You can relate to it as it touches everyone.
Another important genre of music was Rock and Roll in the Soviet Bloc, for the role it played in freeing peoples’ minds. It has also been said that ithelped in bringing about the people’s revolution. How do you see the role that it played?
It played a big role. The people were just ready to rock and get out of that iron curtain and of course they were listening to that music in secrecy for years. It’s sort of music of freedom for that generation.
I’m thinking about the title of the congress, World Without Walls and the fact that the Berlin Wall was torn down 20 years ago. However, if you look around today walls are still being built, for example in Rio de Janeiro and Palestine. In your opinion what is the way forward?
Cultural diplomacy touches my heart because I think that is the way forward.
However, all this change has to come through children, their parents have to start teaching them. The politicians keep making the problems, with their greed and power, which basically means there is no chance and so we must come together as a group and hope that we can force change.