By Becky Spaulding
Despite a gloomy day, gusting wind, and an impending snowstorm, the Grand Rapids Public Library’s Main Building had a parking lot full of cars and a line of shivering people at the door by 12:45p.m. on Sunday, February 20.
The winter-coat wearing masses were gathering for the library’s sixth annual Taste of Soul Sunday, one of their Black History Month events.
At 1:00p.m. on the dot, the doors opened and people were ushered into the building. As guests shook the snow from their jackets, they were met with the Quatenus String Quartet, who also performed at Taste of Soul 2010, playing a mixture of classical and jazz tunes.
Some onlookers headed up to the second floor balcony to watch them play as others headed to different portions of the event.
Taste of Soul Sunday gave guests the opportunity to sample some local fare – owners and staff from LoLo’s Café were handing out their home-made soul food, Southern Fish Fry was there to provide a variety of seafood, and Chez Olga’s staff was dishing out Haitian cuisine, including Jumbalaya and Creole Chicken.
People were lined up at all three food stations, learning about the restaurants and enjoying the fare as they headed to the many available exhibits.
Guests had the option to attend four presentations throughout the event: Cookbook author Gwen Crawford spoke about cooking healthy soul food, director Coy Davis showed and discussed his film, “Whatever Happened to
Idlewild,” Dr. Rik Stevenson, Jr. presented his speech, The Mis-Development of Black Men in the U.S., and Kenyan native Dorothy Sewe’s speech about an immigrant’s experience in the U.S.
Activities for kids were also offered – they were able to craft a necklace based on traditional African design, and West Michigan African drum group Jewels of Africa allowed families to participate in drumming and dancing.
Upstairs, in the Ryerson Auditorium, more music and entertainment were offered. Local band Hey Marco! was the first to perform.
The six-member band, described as having a “hard-driving soulful sound with a touch of smooth jazz,” includes some former members of GRCC’s music program Shades of Blue. Their songs varied from smooth R&B influence to reggae and scat. A common theme ran throughout each song – love.
“We write a lot of songs about love,” laughed lead vocalist and keyboardist Mark Jackson. “Is there anything better to write about?”
Once the concert wrapped up, three live step performances were put on by the Zeta Phi Beta sorority with the Archonettes, youth male group the Alpha Esquires, and the Ivylettes, who filled the auditorium to capacity with their 70 members, ranging in ages from six to sixteen.
The seats were full and the walls were lined with people cheering through all three performances. Camera flashes and video screens could be seen glowing throughout the crowd as proud parents applauded their children and shouted their support.
After their set, members of the Zeta Phi Beta group held a step demonstration and taught some teens in attendance a few of their moves.
As Taste of Soul was coming to an end, women’s gospel group Imani took the stage.
Formed in 1999, the women were described as singing “traditional gospel with jazz overtones.” They explained to the audience that “imani” means “faith” in Swahili, and that their goal was to provide “ministry through music.”
The group opened with the Negro National Anthem – “We just call it freedom,” one singer said.
By the second song, people were out of their seats, clapping and singing along energetically as the group belted it on stage.
Though the snow was coating the building and cars outside, almost every car was still in the parking lot at the end of the three-hour event.
There are more Black History Month events going on at the Grand Rapids Public Library – check out http://www.grpl.org for more information.