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While it’s vital to support NYC Black-owned businesses and cultural celebrations year-round, there are plenty of ways to learn, observe, and honor Black History Month locally, with a bevy of performances, workshops, festivals, and exhibitions popping up in Hell’s Kitchen and Midtown throughout February. Read on to find out more…
Carnegie Hall (881 7th Ave — corner of 57th St) is hosting an Afrofuturism Festival, kicking off during Black History Month. It’s described as: “An ever-expansive aesthetic and practice — where music, visual arts, science fiction, and technology intersect to imagine alternate realities and a liberated future viewed through the lens of Black cultures,” Carnegie Hall has partnered with cultural organizations around the city to present multidisciplinary programming covering African and African diasporic philosophies, speculative fiction, mythology, comics, quantum physics, cosmology, technology, film screenings, exhibitions and talks with thought leaders and artists from around the world.
While there are over 70 partner events across the city throughout the festival, and you can catch several performances at Carnegie Hall itself, including Grammy Award-winning producer, filmmaker, rapper, and composer Flying Lotus (Feb 12), jazz/blues/electronic extraterrestrial cohort Sun Ra Arkestra (Feb 17), innovative flutist and composer Nicole Mitchell and clarinetist Angel Bat Dawid (Feb 24), and artists from the Weill Music Institute showcasing original works in AfroCosmicMelatopia (Feb 27).
Festival performances run through April, so be sure to check out a “trans-Atlantic mélange” of experimental hip hop and African music at Chimurenga Renaissance featuring Fatoumata Diawara (March 4), the Carl Craig Synthesizer Ensemble (March 19), DJ Reborn and DJ mOma’s journey into AfroCosmicMelatopia (March 25), trumpeter Theo Croker (March 26), and big band ensemble Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber (April 3).
Playwrights Horizons (416 W42nd St — west of 9th Ave) declares their intent to celebrate “our Black artists and actors today, this month, and forever” —
Buy tickets to their latest world premiere of Dave Harris’ Tambo & Bones, also available as part of the NYC Off-Broadway Week initiative running through February 27. “A rags-to-riches hip-hop odyssey, Tambo & Bones roasts American capitalism’s desire for certain Black narratives, highlighting the narrow confines within which Black characters are placed. As Tambo and Bones test the limits of the frameworks they’re given, Harris’ play wrestles with the country’s racist past and present, and explodes its post-racial future — such that the stakes, for characters deemed less-than-human, becomes the fate of humanity itself.”
Are you a Playwrights Horizons superfan? Buy a ticket to the Broadway transfer of Michael R. Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning meta-musical A Strange Loop (Lyceum Theatre 149 W45 St — east of Broadway) — which saw its world premiere at Playwrights in 2019. A “big, Black, and queer-ass Great American Musical for all” A Strange Loop is the story of a young artist wrestling with “desires, identity, and instincts he both loves and loathes.”
Over at Signature Theatre (480 W42nd St — east of 10th Ave) is the world premiere of The New Group’s Black No More, a new musical based on George S. Schuyler’s Afrofuturist novel set during the Harlem Renaissance. Black No More tells the story of Max Disher, “a young man eager to try the mysterious machine invented by Dr. Junius Crookman that guarantees to ‘solve the American race problem’ — by turning Black people white. Through a fusion of music and dance, Black No More is one Black man’s journey colliding with truths of race and identity.”
Speaking of premieres, Signature Theatre hosts the New York premiere of playwright-in-residence and MacArthur Genius Fellow Dominique Morisseau’s Confederates, the story of Sara, “an enslaved rebel turned Union spy, and Sandra, a tenured professor in a modern-day private university, are having parallel experiences of institutional racism, though they live over a century apart.” Directed by New York-based Stori Ayers, Confederates explores the connecting threads of racism and bias existing in educational systems from the Civil War to the present day.
While you’re supporting Morisseau’s work, walk a few blocks over to the Manhattan Theatre Club (261 W47th St — east of 8th Ave) to see the Tony Award-nominated playwright’s production of Skeleton Crew. A New York Times Critic’s Pick, Skeleton Crew stars Phylicia Rashad and is set in 2008 Detroit, where a small automotive factory is on the brink of foreclosure, and a tight-knit family of workers hangs in the balance. “With uncertainty everywhere, the line between blue-collar and white-collar becomes blurred, and this working family must reckon with their personal loyalties, their instincts for survival and their ultimate hopes for humanity.”
Elsewhere in the Theatre District, head to Tina: The Tina Turner Musical (Lunt-Fontanne Theatre 205 W46th St – corner of Broadway), the story of legendary rock star Turner written by Olivier-winning and Tony Award-nominated playwright Katori Hall, and MJ The Musical (Neil Simon Theatre 250 W52nd St bw 7/8th Ave), a theatrical retelling of Michael Jackson’s 1992 Dangerous world tour with a book by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage (whose opera Intimate Apparel, is also showing at Lincoln Center!).
For movie buffs, there’s the Paris Theater (4 W58th St bw 5/6th Ave) Black Stories/Black Histories festival, running now through Feb 24th. The series focuses on movies that “look at the larger picture of race in America with stories that are deeply personal, focusing on individuals. And these films do more than hold a mirror up to society; they change the picture and the conversation, affecting history through the act of storytelling.” See films telling the stories of Black lives past and present, including the recently-acclaimed Passing as well as Concrete Cowboy, Creed, Bruised, Daughters of the Dust, Loving, Imitation of Life, Monster’s Ball, Mudbound, Sergeant Rutledge, Shadows, and The Harder They Fall.
Over at the Paley Center for Media (25 W52nd St bw 5/6th Ave), there’s a series of interactive exhibits as a Salute to Black Achievements in Television running now through February 27. Celebrating a 90 year legacy of on-screen talent and Black creators in television, check out their gallery exhibit highlighting Black milestones in TV, celebrate the 50th anniversary of groundbreaking show Sanford and Son, or visit a replicated set of OWN network’s Queen Sugar as well as costumes worn by Black characters on Saturday Night Live, All American, The Wonder Years, and black-ish. There will also be rotating screenings of shows that have pioneered Black representation in TV as well as family activities, trivia, and workshops throughout the month!
The legendary Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is currently on tour, but there are a plethora of excellent Black History Month workshops hosted by the Ailey Extension (405 W55th St — corner of 9th Ave) to participate in virtually. Sign up for the Ladies of Hip Hop Workshop (held online today, Feb 5!) hosted by South Bronx native and hip hop ambassador TweetBoogie, try a free online Afro ’Dance workshop with instructor Angel Kaba, or tune in weekly on social media to the Ailey Extension’s Black Health and Wellness series, featuring interviews with fitness instructors about their experiences as Black wellness professionals.
The New York Public Library is hosting a variety of Black History programming citywide (and online!) — here in Midtown at the W53rd St branch there’s a children’s writing club event entitled What is Freedom? Designed for young writers ages 7-12, What is Freedom will explore and discuss quotations from Black activists and political leaders about the meaning of freedom past, present, and future.
Another excellent all-ages option is to visit The Intrepid Museum (Pier 86, W46th St), offering a series of ongoing on-site educational talks highlighting the many contributions of Black Americans to the armed forces and US space program.
Learn the story of the brave sailors of Gun Tub 10 — who on October 29, 1944 battled a WWII kamikaze aircraft to save the Intrepid, many paying the ultimate sacrifice as the plane crashed into their ship. Their battle continued for decades as survivors and families fought to ensure that the heroic sailors received proper military honors.
Hear the story of Mae Jemison, a physician, engineer, and NASA astronaut who would become the first Black woman in space through her time as a mission specialist aboard the Endeavor in 1992, logging 190 minutes in space and orbiting the Earth 127 times. After NASA, Jemison would go on to found a technology research company, teach environmental science at Dartmouth University, earn several honorary doctorates, and work as an advocate to encourage children of color and young women to pursue STEM careers.
Check out Full Muster: Inclusive Histories on Historic Naval Ships, a new, one-year project supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities exploring the archival collections of naval ship museums and amplifying underrepresented stories of Black, Asian American, Latino, Indigenous American and LGBTQ+ service members from WWII to present day.
Slightly further uptown at the New York Historical Society (170 Central Park West), visit Our Composite Nation: Frederick Douglass’ America, beginning February 11. In the 1860s, famed orator and abolitionist Douglass took his speech “Our Composite Nation” on the road as an argument for a plural American democracy. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by New York Historical Scholar Trustee David Blight, this special installation features artifacts, images, and a theatrical design that bring Douglass’ compelling speech to life and explores his vision of freedom, citizenship, and equal rights that remains urgently relevant today, as a hopeful plea for America to live up to its founding ideals.
While you’re near the park, honor the many achievements of Black road runners (including NYRR founding president Ted Corbitt, known as “the father of long-distance running” and the first African American to compete in an Olympic Marathon) by competing in the Virtual NYRR Black History Month 5K — register to run the race anytime (and anywhere!) from February 19 to 27.
If you need to recover after that 5K, stop by the spa at Massage Envy (525 W42nd St bw 10/11th Ave), owned and operated by fellow Hell’s Kitchen resident Rita Ewing!
Take the whole family to the African Popup Festival on February 19 at Hudson Station (440 9th Ave — corner of W35th St), celebrating the diaspora with a marketplace, DJs playing Afrobeats/Global sounds, cultural dance and music performances, an art exhibition and plethora of cultural dishes!
Wander a few blocks south to Maison 10 (4 W 29th St bw 5/6th Ave) to shop this innovative concept store where 10 artisan goods are rotated through their inventory every 10 weeks and customers can choose from one of 10 charities to donate 10% of sale proceeds!
Looking to support Black-owned restaurants in Hell’s Kitchen? Stop by Queen of Sheba (650 10th Ave — corner of W46th St), a traditional Ethiopian restaurant helmed by Executive Chef Philipos Mengistu. Try the Doro Wot chicken stew or the Zilzil Tibs marinated beef stir fry paired with a Mahr Spritzer composed of Ethiopian honey wine and vodka, soda, lemon, camomile, lemongrass & a citrus twist.
Visit frequent holiday gift guide favorite Little Pie Company (424 W43rd St bw 9/10th Ave), owned and operated by actor and pie purveyor Arnold Wilkerson for over 30 years! Make sure to try their signature sour cream apple walnut pie for an unforgettable dessert experience.
Also featured in our Valentine’s Day Guide is Chez Josephine (414 W42nd St — west of 9th Ave), a culinary and cultural homage to the spirit of Josephine Baker (the first Black woman to be honored at the Panthéon in Paris!). Stop by Chez Josephine to sample their country pâté, trout amandine, and lemon tart brûlée, lively salon-like ambiance and live piano accompaniment.
Pick up some prime beef or lentil sambusas from Meske (468 W47th St — corner of 10th Ave) to pair with Buticha jalapeño ground chickpeas or Meskerem Tibs leg of lamb.
In the mood for an açai bowl? Visit founder Bryan Ware at Fresh from Hell (326 W47th St — bw 8/9th Ave) for one of their signature, made-to-order Hell’s Kitchen sink açai bowl, smoothies, or coconut oatmeal cups.
And if you’re looking to explore Black History Month events citywide, check out a neighborhood guide to other Black-owned businesses, NYC stories, and resources!