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The Atlanta Music Festival, with roots dating back more than 100 years, will begin its 2021 edition Monday (January 250 with daily online performances. This year’s festival will focus on expanding the understanding of social and environmental justice through the power of the arts. The festival will be centered around Proctor Creek and the West Atlanta watershed area to represent that community’s history of poverty, segregation, environmental degradation and economic struggles.

The festival will feature African American concert music and poetry, including opera singers Morris Robinson, Timothy Miller and the Decatur-based Meridian Chorale. The Rev. Dwight Andrews, pastor of the First Congregational Church and professor of music theory and African American music at Emory University, is the festival’s artistic director. 

“The Atlanta Music Festival seeks to build a more just and equitable world through mutual understanding and the arts,” Andrews said in a press release. “Traditionally, the festival celebrates African American poetry and music. But today, as our society grapples with triple crises — pandemic, economic upheaval and racial unrest — while still emphasizing this music, we also are addressing social justice through the transformative power of the arts.”

The Rev. Dwight Andrews plays his beloved saxophone during a church service.

The Rev. Dwight Andrews (above) and Steven Darsey revived the Atlanta Music Festival in 2001 to showcase African American classical music.

Proctor Creek was chosen as a focal point because it flows through Atlanta and touches historic African American neighborhoods. It also flowed past the notorious Chattahoochee Brick Factory, where mostly Black contract prison laborers were brutally worked, starved, whipped and tortured. The creek has transitioned from a source of clean water to a polluted dumping ground for industrial waste and raw sewage.

“Proctor Creek can be seen as a metaphor for Atlanta, which is why we chose it to represent environmental justice,” Steven Darsey, festival music director and artistic director of Meridian Herald, said in the release. “Today, cleanup work on the creek is in process. The creek’s beauty, struggle and renewal have inspired a wide range of artists, scientists and educators.”

Festival highlights include:

The Beauty of Proctor Creek, a dance performance by glo. The piece was choreographed by Lauri Stallings specifically for the festival. Dancers will perform in the waters and falls of Proctor Creek. Monday (January 25).

— “A Walk Through the Environmental, Social and Cultural History of the West Atlanta Watershed” with environmental historian Will Bryan, along with the Rev. Skip Mason, a community historian. Tuesday (January 26).

— “Seeing Proctor Creek Through the Eyes of Future Environmentalists and Artists.” The program will feature students and teachers from Booker T. Washington High School creating art on the Proctor Creek PATH. Yinzi Kong of the Vega String Quartet will perform while artist Emily Hirn paints a view of the creek. Wednesday (January 27).

— A concert will feature opera singers Morris Robinson (bass) and Timothy Miller (tenor). Miller’s résumé includes singing with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, The Atlanta Opera and doing “God Bless America” at Atlanta Braves games. The concert will include the Meridian Chorale and music by composer Trevor Weston. January 30.

Each installment will be posted to the Atlanta Music Festival website at 7:30 p.m. on the performance date and remain available through the end of the year. Viewing is free.

The first Atlanta Music Festival was held in 1910, four years after the Atlanta race riots. It was organized by the Rev. Henry Hugh Proctor, the first African American pastor of the First Congregational Church, to promote racial reconciliation through the arts. Andrews and Darsey revived the festival in 2001 to showcase classical African American music.

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