For Immediate Release
CONTACT: Jim Motavalli at 203-610-0549
With up to $75,000 in funding over three years from the American Rescue Plan, WPKN (89.5 FM and online at www.wpkn.org) is presenting both live events and on-air special programming during Black History Month in February. The full schedule is at https://wpkn.org/special-programs/celebrate-black-history.
There are two live events. “Bridgeport: This is Us” is a production of WPKN in conjunction with NV23 Productions and it’s a celebration of African-American musicians in the Park City. And it takes place at the Bijou Theatre (275 Fairfield Avenue in Bridgeport) on February 4 at 8 p.m. The styles presented range from African kalimba to jazz, funk, R&B, hip-hop, and soul. Featured performers include James Moss (African kalimba, percussion vocals), Darian Cunning (virtuoso solo guitar, vocals), Mark Matthew (hip-hop), the Steve Clarke Band with Pat Marafiote, Chris Stanley & Thom Adams (jazz), and MDIII/Michael Dunham featuring vocalists Janice Dempsey, Tiffany T’Zelle Wilson, and drummer Nate Barnes.
Funk Night at the Bijou takes place on February 19, presented by Mega Bass Productions and WPKN. Three bands will perform: Le’ Mixx, Anthem and the What Up Funk Band. Le’Mix is an eight-piece band performing high-energy classic Motown, soul, funk, rock, and reggae. Anthem is a well-known reggae band that’s been together since 2000. And What Up Funk is a Southern Connecticut seven-piece band dedicated to the groove, the funk, and the funkier side of pop music culture. You can’t not dance.
A full schedule of film screenings (including Summer of Soul, Homecoming, I Am Not Your Negro and Behind the Movement) had been planned for the Bijou as part of Black History Month, but due to COVID-19 these have been postponed. New dates will be announced soon.
On the air, here are some programs to tune into. Steve di Costanzo, WPKN station manager and host of Radio Base Camp (Tuesday mornings starting at 7 a.m.) will feature under-the-radar black bands, musicians and vocalists (February 1), black music in Africa from the 1960s and ‘70s (February 8). Alec Cumming, the host of Snap, Crackle and Pop, offers a special tribute entitled “Magic in the Air: The Big Orchestral Sound of Black America” (February 3 at 4 p.m.). Herman Olivera III, host of Rehumanize Yourself Radio, will honor “black artists who have shaped modern music and added color to our world” (February 4 at 2 a.m.).
Emma Speer, the Emuse, will explore Erykah Badu’s albums Amerykah Part I (Fourth World War) and New Amerykah Part II (Return of the Ankh). The albums “consider the black experience in America through history” (February 4 and 18, 9 a.m.). Garnett Ankle, fill-in host at Mikki’s Room, will celebrate Bob Marley and Jamaican singer Dennis Brown (February 5, 10 p.m.).
Al Bell, host of the Cool Blues and Records Show, will study the history of black vocal groups, starting way back in the 1890s and continuing through the Golden Age of the 1950s (February 6, 7 p.m.). Jim Motavalli will rebroadcast an interview with Dom Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and jazz singer/playwright Allan Harris about black cowboys. Flemons recently released the album Black Cowboys on Smithsonian Folkways, and Harris is the author of the stage play Cross That River (February 8, 10 p.m.). He will also interview Calvin Hill, Bridgeport native and bassist for McCoy Tyner and Pharoah Sanders (February 22 at 9 p.m.).
Martha Lewis, host of The Flux Capacitor, celebrates the rich musical history of women of color, from Big Mama Thornton to Janelle Monae (February 10, 10 a.m.). She also hosts a high-octane dance party that will offer a time-traveling mix of blues, jazz, rock, soul, funk and beyond. Expect a bit of Prince, Joan Armatrading, Ruth Brown, Ronnie Spector and Stevie Wonder (February 24 at 10 a.m.).
Michelle Morgan of the Love and Communication show will feature black and queer musicians working in the indie/punk genres including Mykki Blanco, Gravy Train, serpentwithfeet, Skinny Girl Diet, Big Joanie, Pleasure Venom, The Tuts, Blood Orange, Shamir, Nova Twins, and more (February 18 at 11 p.m.).
In his GM Report to the Listeners (February 21 at noon) di Costanzo will interview the executive director and board chair of Bridgeport’s Mary & Eliza Freeman Center, Bernicestine McLeod Bailey. The Freeman Center seeks to restore, preserve and ensure the viability of the Mary and Eliza Freeman Houses; teach the history of Connecticut black people; revitalize the surrounding South End community; and facilitate the preservation and revitalization of other African-American and Greater Bridgeport historic preservation communities.
WPKN plans to greatly expand its coverage and outreach to the African-American and Hispanic communities. WPKN, which recently moved to new quarters at 277 Fairfield Avenue in downtown Bridgeport, was recently declared “the greatest radio station in the world” by The New Yorker magazine.
WPKN’s grant is part of $110 million in federal funding awarded to the city of Bridgeport as a way of responding to the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The station plans to use the grant—the largest in the station’s history—for film screenings, lectures, concerts and other visual and performing arts events (as well as 100 hours of on-air programming) to support Greater Bridgeport’s African-American and Hispanic communities.
To help plan the African-American events over the next three years, WPKN has created a community advisory board headed as chairman by WPKN programmer Ebong Udoma.
Says Udoma, “This grant is much-needed recognition of the great work that WPKN has done over the years in recognizing Black History Month. With the money we’ll be able to do much more in reaching out to the local African-American communities.”
Confirmed members of the African-American community board include Ebong Udoma, a 40-year WPKN veteran; Jason A. Coombs, a SAG-eligible actor, filmmaker, and teaching artist who is the artistic director of The Bridgeport Film Fest; Dr. Dwayne Smith, President and CEO at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport; Sheena Graham, educator, songwriter and poet who teaches at Harding High School and Central High School in Bridgeport; Dr. Kris Sealey, Associate Professor of Philosophy and co-director of the Black Studies Program at Fairfield University; Kim Bianca Williams of VCL Consulting Group, who is also principal in Urban Synergy in Action and a lecturer at the University of Bridgeport; Christina Smith, executive director of Groundwork Bridgeport and a former City Councilor; Rob Fried, director of Band Central; Richard Wenning, former director of Spread Music Now; and Reverend D. Stanley Lord, Bridgeport chapter president of the NAACP.
Black History Month is celebrated February 1 to 28, and Hispanic Heritage Month September 15 through October 15. African-Americans constitute 35 percent and Hispanic-Americans 41 percent of Bridgeport’s population, according to the latest census. Programming for Hispanic Heritage Month will be announced later.
According to Joe Celli, host of “Soundprint: Asia” on WPKN and a longtime musician and arts administrator in Connecticut, “This largest grant in the 58-year history of WPKN will allow us to dig deeper into the recognition of the inestimable contributions that African-Americans have made to virtually every aspect of American culture and society. I’m pleased with the advisory committee that we are developing that currently includes a range of African-American community leadership and the partnerships that are currently being established for a city-wide Black History Month.”
Says WPKN Program Director Valerie Richardson, “WPKN’s programmers have long had a passion for bringing diverse cultures to our airwaves. We are grateful for this new opportunity to create a deeper engagement with Bridgeport’s Black and Latino communities.”
Also celebrating the grant is WPKN Station Manager Steve di Costanzo. “With our recent move to downtown Bridgeport, there’s a sharper focus on the ‘community’ aspect of WPKN,” he said. “We are looking forward to using this grant to better expand our Black History and Hispanic Heritage Month on-air content and local events while better engaging the communities we serve.”
Founded in 1963 as a 100-watt campus outlet, WPKN is today a 10,000-watt listener-supported community radio station broadcasting at 89.5 FM and streaming online at WPKN.org. WPKN’s terrestrial signal now reaches to a listenership of 1.5 million people in Connecticut, Long Island, parts of New York and Massachusetts. Operating 24/7 and largely run by volunteers, WPKN offers a unique and eclectic mix of live and recorded music, news, public affairs, spoken word, arts and culture and other free-form programming which defy genre. WPKN is proud to be listener-supported, commercial-free, community-driven radio available to the public at no cost, any time, day or night.