“Queen of Gospel” Mahalia Jackson was the first gospel singer to win a Grammy, mentored both Aretha Franklin and Della Reese, and her music was the soundtrack of the civil rights movement. Jackson regularly performed at protests and rallies alongside Dr. King, and it’s said that Jackson prompted his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Five years later in 1968, Mahalia sang King’s favorite hymn, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at his funeral.
Just days after King was assassinated, the legendary Nina Simone played a tribute at the Westbury Music Festival, performing “Why? (The King of Love is Dead),” written by her bass player Gene Taylor in reaction to King’s death. Simone spoke of this “folk song” to PBS that same year, saying: “It’s a good time for black people to be alive. It’s a lot of hell. A lot of violence, but I feel more alive now than I ever have in my life. I have a chance to live, as I’ve dreamed.”
The accomplished and soulful vocalist Brianna Thomas, joined by special guest trombone legend Wycliffe Gordon, leads this commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination in a night of gospel, jazz, and spirituals inspired by the works of Jackson and Simone.
5 p.m. | Doors Open
7–8:30 p.m. | Concert
8:30–10:30 p.m. | Exhibition Viewing
NYBG Shop open until 9 p.m.
Non-Member $48 / Member $43
Summer Concert Series pass including all three concerts: Non-Member $129 / Member $114
Advance purchase recommended. Events are rain or shine.
“Brianna Thomas is the complete package.”
-Dan Bilawsky, All About Jazz
Born and raised in Peoria Illinois, Brianna grew up surrounded by music. Her father, Charlie Thomas, not only influenced her with his own unique talents as a vocalist and percussionist, he created an exceptionally well-rounded musical environment that fostered Brianna’s emerging abilities.At the tender age of six, Brianna made her singing debut performing a duet rendition of the jazz classic, “What A Wonderful World” with her father. At the age of eight she won her first of thirteen trophies, all first place and overall, from various district and regional talent shows. Between the ages of eight and ten she had her first gigs performing for a variety of banquets, black tie affairs and as a guest on local radio stations. It didn’t take long for people to notice her talent and potential. Just shy of her teens, Brianna’s talents were discovered by distinguished jazz educator Mary Jo Papich. Soon after, Brianna toured Europe with the Peoria Jazz All-Stars, a big band under Ms. Papich’s direction. This was the beginning of Brianna’s career as jazz vocalist.
Brianna’s talents have propelled her to many successes including performances at the Montreux, North Sea, and Umbria Jazz Festivals and in venues ranging from the Bahamas to Geneva, Switzerland. Brianna was a resident in both the 2001 and 2002 Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Programs – an international artist-in-residence program that assembles a select group of jazz musicians to perform their original compositions at the Kennedy Center. At “Jazz Ahead” she worked with a host of premier jazz educators and performers including renowned vocalist Carmen Lundy, Winard Harper and Nathan Davis. Brianna’s extensive list of stateside performances includes appearances with Fred Anderson, Von Freeman, Houston Person and the Barber Brothers. She has performed across the country from New Orleans to Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center. In 2001, Thomas was awarded “High School Jazz Vocalist of the Year” by Down Beat magazine. Notably, Brianna Thomas is the youngest person ever to be inducted into Peoria’s African-American Hall of Fame at the age of thirteen in 1996. She has also received a certificate of excellence from the state of Illinois in recognition of her musical accomplishments.
“just his presence is a creative experience.”
-Wynton Marsalis, Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center
Wycliffe Gordon’s unmatched modern mastery of the plunger mute and his exceptional technique and signature sound have solidified Gordon a place in musical history as one of the top tromboninsts of his generation. The Downbeat Critics Poll once again named Wycliffe “Best Trombone” for four years in a row, and Jazz Journalists Association named him “Trombonist of the Year” again in 2016 as well as eight times previously. In 2015, Wycliffe was named :Best Trombone” by JazzEd Reader’s Poll, and was presented the Satchmo award from the Sarasota Jazz Club, received the Louis Armstrong Memorial Prize presented by the Swing Jazz Culture Foundation, and was named Artist of the Year (2015) by the Augusta Arts Council. He is also a past recipient of the ASCAP Foundation Vanguard Award, among others.
In additional to an extremely successful solo career, Gordon tours regularly leading his quintet known as Wycliffe Gordon & his International All-Stars, headlining at legendary jazz venues and performing arts centers throughout the world. He is frequently commissioned and has an extensive catalog of original compositions that span the various timbres of jazz and chamber music. Musicians and ensembles of every caliber perform his music throughout the world and his arrangement of the theme song to NPR’s “All Things Considered” is heard daily across the globe. His show “Jazz a la Carte” was named one of the five best moments in jazz by The Wall Street Journal. Gordon is a former veteran member of the Wynton Marsalis Septet, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and has been a featured guest artist on Billy Taylor’s “Jazz at the Kennedy Center” Series. His musical expertise is sought out by artists across the globe and has been captured on countless projects with artists including Wynton Marsalis, Paul Simon, Natalie Merchant, Rene Marie, Dianne Reeves, Anat Cohen, Ricky Skaggs, Arturo Sandoval and Doc Severinsen to name a few.
Reserve a table at Hudson Garden Grill before the show, order a gourmet picnic box online to pick up and enjoy during the performance, or stop in at any one of several other dining options available during Summer Concert Evenings at the Garden.
Hudson Garden Grill
Enjoy a pre-concert dinner at the Hudson Garden Grill by reserving on OpenTable.com. Last reservation is at 5:30 p.m.
Gourmet Picnic Box
Featuring selections for two from STARR Events, these picnic boxes are the perfect addition to your NYBG visit. Beginning May 1, reserve online and pick them up before the performance to enjoy on the Conservatory Lawn.
Food Trucks, Cantina, and Seasonal Bars
Stop by the Visitor Center for treats from the food truck, beer, wine, and seasonal drink specials, assorted beverages, snacks, and more.