By Amelia Blades Steward
Jazz great Sharón Clark of Washington, D.C., will perform in the upcoming “Jazz at the Mural” Series sponsored by the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center at 424 Race Street in Cambridge on May 13, 2023, from 6 to 8 p.m. The series is sponsored by the Harriet Tubman Organization, Inc., a community-based association located in Cambridge that honors Harriet Ross Tubman. Known as the “Moses” of her people, Harriet Tubman was an African American woman of great moral courage, nobly earning her place among the great historic heroes of American heritage.
Sharón, who moved to Maryland in the early 1990s, would take trips to the Eastern Shore where she became familiar with the people and the landscape. Since then, she has done several performances in the area with the Smithsonian Jazz Masters. When asked about the importance of performing in Cambridge, Sharón reflects on the town’s iconic figure, Harriet Tubman.
“Linda (Harris) has done a great job putting out what this woman really was about, and I say that she was like the mother of the great migration that happened between 1910 and 1970. She did this and she did it with bravery – a vision for African Americans to hopefully see a better life. The jazz series is a great extension of that,” Sharon comments.
When Linda Harris, Director of Events and Programming at the Harriet Tubman Museum, was given the opportunity to start running the Harriet Tubman Museum, she wanted to think of things that could bring people to Cambridge.
Linda states, “I was doing walking tours and the Smithsonian had its Jazz Masters in the area. One night, I was standing in front of that Harriet Tubman mural on Race Street, and we have this lovely light that illuminates it, and I thought why not have music at the mural? I asked people that I know, and it’s been amazing how everyone has said yes.”
“I’m delighted to bring such extraordinary talent like Sharón Clark to Cambridge. So that was the impetus to bring light to the museum and boy has it done that in the most amazing ways. In the years to come, it’s going to be even grander than it is.”
The “Jazz by the Mural” Series supports the work of the Harriet Tubman Museum, which has partnered with other nonprofit organizations in Cambridge. Its biggest partner is the Youth Empowerment Center. The money raised through the Jazz Series concerts helps with programs for youth literacy, which is a real issue in Cambridge.
“We are going to start having Harriet’s Book Club book readings on Thursdays. And the funds that we raise will help with that program and purchasing books and equipment. And I’m also taking the kids on the Underground Railroad route, so it will also help with transportation for that,” Linda explains.
The museum also got a grant from Daughters of the American Revolution to get the program, “Find the Harriet in You – Through Literacy, Music, Walking, and Faith,” off the ground and provide a host of programs year-round, including storytellers, a doll-making workshop, music workshops, and sound workshops – introducing a different way of learning to get them interested in reading.
“We developed a strategic plan identifying four key components of our mission – reading/literary, history, music, and walking tours. We’ve applied for a grant through the Maryland Heritage Trust requesting money to fund our mission and promote tourism in the heritage area. Jazz at the Mural is a major fundraiser that fulfills our mission of music appreciation and history as it applies to Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad,” Linda adds.
Sharon developed her passion for Harriet Tubman by collecting memorabilia related to the iconic figure.
“Harriet Tubman is my muse and the inspiration for everything that I do now,” Sharón adds. “I’m going to start my own nonprofit using my skills as a jazz vocalist to serve as an inspiration for children in the inner city. Music programs in schools have been eliminated unless you’re in the band. I’m determined that if I beat the bushes in these inner cities, I’m going to find the next great jazz vocalist.”
Among the jazz greats who have influenced Sharón include Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, and Nancy Wilson.
Sharón states, “I was forced to listen to jazz as a young woman because my father loved jazz. And, of course, I grew up during the 60s, so everything was Motown. When I got to high school, it went full circle because my music teacher loved Duke Ellington. So, in the ninth grade, we had to learn the music of Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, and Jerome Kern.”
Sharón studied classical music at James Madison University and then transferred to Berkley College of Music to study jazz vocals with Maggie Scott.
“Right now, in the U.S., it’s almost like we are experiencing a reintroduction of a more traditional form of jazz where the melody and the lyrics are conveyed in such a way to tell a story. And this is why I’m so glad that Samara Joy recently won a Grammy because it’s opening up what I do. And, hopefully, when people listen to me, it will make them want to listen more,” Sharón adds.
Linda states, “Sharón Clark is just one of the great jazz vocalists, locally, as well as worldwide, and for her to consent to come to our program is a huge honor.”
Sharón Clark will be accompanied by Aleks Izotov on piano and Steve Arnold on bass. Harriet Tubman Jazz at the Mural Series is offered on the second Saturday of every month. The cost is $20 a person. Visit harriettubmanmuseumcenter.org to purchase tickets.
The Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center is open three days a week from Thursday to Friday from noon to 3 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. The Harriet Tubman Organization accepts donations and welcomes the opportunity to partner with other organizations that share its vision for educating the community on Harriet’s story. Donations can be sent to the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center, 424 Race Street, Cambridge, Maryland 21613. For further information, call 410-228-0401 or visit harriettubmanmuseumcenter.org.
Upcoming Jazz at the Mural 2023 performers and dates include June 10 – Lavenia Nesmith, vocalist; July 15 – Petra Martin, vocalist; August 12 – Iva Ambush, vocalist; September 9 – Langston Hughes, Saxophonist; and October 14 – David Cole, Guitar.