National African American History Month, also known as Black History Month, gets off to a rousing start this weekend with a free performance of music and poetry in “A WordTheatre Tribute to Langston Hughes” on Saturday, Feb. 4, at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood.
Noted actors including Lorraine Toussaint (“Selma,” “Orange Is The New Black”), Joseph Marcell (“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), Jason George (“Grey’s Anatomy”) and Barry Shabaka Henley (“Better Call Saul,” “Ali”) will take turns reading selected works by Hughes, an iconic figure from the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s.
They will be supported by the jazz quartet the Supa Lowery Brothers, who will also feature singer Amy Keys.
The tribute was previously performed at the Grammy Museum’s Clive Davis Theater in Los Angeles in 2016.
“As part of our ongoing commitment to engage, entertain and educate our visitors, we are proud to present once more the fine work of WordTheatre and their extraordinary lineup of actors and musicians to celebrate the achievements and contributions black Americans have played in our country’s history,” said Darin Drabing, Forest Lawn’s President and CEO.
The beginnings of African American History Month date back to 1915, 50 years after thre 13th Amendment to the Constitution officially banned slavery in the US.
Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard educated historian, and Jesse E. Moorland, a respected minister founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by black Americans and other peoples of African descent.
The organization — later known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History — sponsored a national “Negro History Week” in 1926, to take place the second week of February in part to link the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
With the advent of the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement, Negro History Week evolved into an African American History Month celebration on college campuses. Since 1976, beginning with Gerald Ford, every American president has designated the month of February as national African American History Month. And it is also celebrated internationally, including Canada and the United Kingdom.
The contributions to American society, industry, science, and culture by African Americans is vast and ongoing. And yet, after 91 years of chronicling and celebrating Black achievement, there are still things to learn as pointed out in the the successful film “Hidden Figures,” which describes the efforts and trials of the African American women mathematicians who played a prominent role in the US space program in the 1960s.
The program begins at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb.4, inside the Hall of Liberty at Forest Lawn, located at 6300 Forest Lawn Drive in Los Angeles. Both admission and parking are free. For more information, visit www.forestlawn.com.