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On Center: Harlem 100 will celebrate an influential artistic movement at Eisenhower Auditorium

by on August 30, 2019 11:16 AM

A century ago, in the aftermath of World War I, a predominantly African-American neighborhood in uptown Manhattan emerged as one of the leading cultural centers of the country. Harlem 100: Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance, which features the nine-member band Mwenso and the Shakes, will bring the sound and spirit of the era to Penn State’s Eisenhower Auditorium on October 22.

Created in collaboration with Harlem’s National Jazz Museum, Harlem 100 will capture the sights and sounds of Harlem when legendary artists such as Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, and Billie Holiday made the neighborhood a cultural mecca.

Hosted by Wynton Marsalis-mentored bandleader and singer Michael Mwenso, the multimedia presentation will feature sensational Harlem-based musicians and dancers in a modern variety show. It will pay homage to the presentations made famous in the Apollo Theater, the Cotton Club, and other celebrated venues of the Harlem Renaissance.

“The music doled out by Mwenso and the Shakes is effusive, overflowing with elements of classical jazz, blues, world music, and tap. When played live, this amalgam of ideas and musical references has garnered the spiritual jazz-outfit with a reputation for energetic sets and genre-pushing inventiveness,” notes a writer for

The band has become popular in New York City, in part, through its late-night sessions in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s intimate Dizzy’s Club.

“Not many bands in the orbit of jazz today can begin to approach the crowd-pleasing threshold of Mwenso and the Shakes,” writes a reviewer. A Jazziz writer calls the band “a unique troupe of global artists presenting music that merges entertainment and artistry.”

A native of Sierra Leone, Mwenso moved to London as a youngster and by his early teens found himself on stage with soul-music great James Brown. Members of the Shakes come from far-flung places such as South Africa, Madagascar, France, Jamaica, and Hawaii.

In addition to Mwenso, Harlem 100 will feature tap dancer Michela Marino Lerman and vocalists Vuyo Sotashe and Brianna Thomas.

Emergence [The Process of Coming into Being], the debut album by Mwenso and the Shakes, was released last month.

“Our music has become something that expresses empowering messages of love,” Mwenso says in an interview with “The variety of musical styles that is presented here is something we have diligently, as a group, been working on over the last few years. I truly believe there is something for everyone on this album. I want people to listen to Emergence like they are in the audience.”

Featuring the music of Waller, Ellington, Holiday, Bessie Smith, and Ethel Waters, Harlem 100 celebrates one of the most influential artistic movements of our country and gives insight into Harlem then and now.


The presentation is part of a Center for the Performing Arts season focus, The American Experience: Through an African-American Lens. Foxdale Village, A Quaker-Directed Continuing Care Retirement Community, sponsors the concert. For tickets or information, go to or phone (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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