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On Center: Lizz Wright will raise her gorgeous voice in song this winter at Schwab Auditorium

by on December 02, 2019 1:50 PM

Some of the finest singers don’t fit nicely into a box that can be labeled with the name of a single genre. Lizz Wright, who will make her Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State premiere February 5, is one of those vocalists.

Gospel was the bedrock of Wright’s musical education. She was once the music director of a small church for which her father was pastor. Later, at Georgia State University in Atlanta, she sang classical repertoire. At The New School in New York City, she studied jazz and spirituals. On her own, she explored folk music and the Great American Songbook.

Wright’s years of absorbing music from across a swirling sea of influences has imbued her with a deep desire for developing and refining her own voice.

Through an inimitable instrument that a New York Times reviewer describes as “a smooth, dark alto possessed of qualities you might associate with barrel-aged bourbon or butter-soft leather,” Wright dresses her performance in America’s cultural fabric.

A Chicago Tribune reviewer, reflecting on a Wright concert, expresses awe for her ability to make everything sound good. “Even if she had been singing the Yellow Pages (do they still make those?), she would have proved compelling,” he writes. “For starters, there was the character of her alto, a plush, supple instrument that sounds luxuriant in its lower registers, unforced in the middle, and appealingly rounded up high. … And then there was the forthrightness of Wright’s art. When she stood stage center, opened her arms, looked straight at the audience, and allowed those sumptuous sounds to issue forth, there was no question that she believed every note she sang and made the listener feel the same.”

The Georgia native, who will perform at Schwab Auditorium, brings vibrancy to songs by some of the most talented songwriters of today and yesteryear. From her debut album, Salt, to her latest release, Grace, Wright earns acclaim as one of the most venerable vocalists of her generation.

On Grace, the singer summons her southern heritage to explore the web of story and song that binds together the many traditions at the soul of the American South. The album’s landscape brims with Wright’s interpretations of classic and contemporary songs by Ray Charles, Allen Toussaint, Nina Simone, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, k.d. lang, Bob Dylan, Frank Perkins, Mitchell Parish, Rose Cousins, and Birds of Chicago.

“On her sixth album, Grace, Wright translates with phenomenal fluency between inner awareness and outward demonstration, individual seeking and conscious communion, ecstasy and empathy,” writes an NPR reviewer.

“Lizz Wright has reached a musical maturity – stylistically, interpretively, emotionally …,” asserts a JazzTimes critic. “On Grace, … Wright raises her richly burnished voice heavenward for an inspired exploration of spiritualism.”


Mimi Barash Coppersmith sponsors the concert. The Glenn and Nancy Gamble Endowment provides support. The presentation is part of a Center for the Performing Arts season focus, The American Experience: Through an African-American Lens. Sandra Zaremba and Richard Brown provide support for engagement programming related to this and other focus events. For tickets or information, go to or call (814) 863-0255.

John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts.



John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.
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