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Free Outdoor Concert with Mwenso and The Shakes Opens Center for the Performing Arts’ Return to Live Events

The Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State will open its 2021-22 season this week with “Love Will Be thee Only Weapon,” a free concert by Mwenso and the Shakes.

Marking a return to live in-person events for the center after an 18-month hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the jazz-funk performance and celebration of Black music will take place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on the Eisenhower Auditorium patio.

While the event is free, tickets are required and can be ordered at or by calling 814-863-0255.

“Michael Mwenso, an artist-activist and Black music historian, will lead The Shakes in an on-your-feet explosion of sounds and ideas in a kaleidoscope of Black ancestral diasporic music and traditions,” a news release from the center stated.

The show will open with a performance by Kikora Franklin and dancers. An associate professor of theater/dance at Penn State and artistic director of youth dance program Roots of Life in State College, Franklin was personally selected by Mwenso as the opener.

Mwenso is a frequent visiting artist at the center, having performed a live concert with The Shakes in 2019 and virtually in 2020-21. He is a keystone partner in CPA’s Fierce Urgency Festival, a three-year series of events celebrating Black artists and featuring residencies and performances with Mwenso and his ensemble, and hosts the center’s “Meeting the Moment with Michael Mwenso” virtual discussion series

Born in Sierra Leone and raised in London, Mwenso became a dancer and singer who performed with the likes of Ray Charles and James Brown. Wynton Marsalis brought him to the United States to serve as curator at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Mwenso and his ensemble of professional and Juilliard-trained musicians, The Shakes, released their debut, “Emergence,” in 2019.

In addition to Thursday’s concert. Mwenso and The Shakes will participate in two related events this week. On Tuesday, they will take the audience “Inside the Music,” with an acoustic performance as part of the Tuesdays on the Terrace series at 3 Dots Downtown, 137 E. Beaver Ave., from 5-8 p.m. Mwenso and The Shakes are scheduled to perform during the third hour. (Guests will be required to verify they are vaccinated against COVID-19 and must wear masks.

Mwenso and vocalist Vuyo Sotashe also will host “Coming Out in America” at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in LL011 HUB-Robeson Center. The one-hour, informal conversation will include a discussion of how Black cultural icons have helped the two artists negotiate their LGBTQ+ identities while living in the United States, as well as their musical influences and the history of Black queer artists.

Tickets are on sale now for all of the Center for Performing Arts’ 2021-22 events. The center will present a mix of live and “Up Close and Virtual” presentations, including jazz, classical music and theater, throughout the season.

Upcoming events include:

• A theatrical presentation of En Garde Arts’ “Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes)” to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month with a live, in-person performance at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 30 in Eisenhower Auditorium;

• British a cappella ensemble VOCES8’s return to Penn State with a performance at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 12 in the School of Music’s Recital Hall;

• “Cartography,” a multi-media production exploring the migrant experience conceived and created by Kaneza Schaal and Christopher Myers, at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 14 in Eisenhower;

• Jazz pianist Christian Sands and his band at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 27 in Eisenhower;

For information on all of the center’s in-person and virtual events, visit