Home of such establishment pillars as the National Symphony Orchestra and Washington National Opera, presenter of top visiting orchestras and dance companies and venue for crowd-pleasing musicals on tour — not to mention “Sheer Madness” — the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has recently embraced an artistic genre that emerged from 1970s African American street culture, mainly in New York City: hip hop.
Paying tribute to those roots, the center will present “Pioneering Emcees, Vol. 1,” a concert in a series called “The Bridge,” on Monday, Nov. 20, at 8 p.m. in the Eisenhower Theater. The concert, hosted by Roxanne Shanté and Grandmaster Caz, with music by Kool DJ Red Alert, will feature some of hip hop’s founding fathers and mothers, including MC Sha-Rock, Queen Lisa Lee, Spoonie Gee, Kurtis Blow, Kool Moe Dee and Whodini. The producer is Pay To Winn Management.
Under President Deborah Rutter, the Kennedy Center took its first major step by hiring rapper Q-Tip as artistic director for hip hop culture in 2016. Of the Nov. 20 event, Q-Tip commented, “To be able to present some of the pioneers that have played a foundational role in the culture, alongside contemporary artists who are creating work inspired by and/or impacting the hip hop generation, is extremely rewarding.”
The Q in Q-Tip’s stage name is said to stand for Queens, where the Harlem-born Jonathan William Davis (who changed his name to Kamaal Ibn John Fareed when he converted to Islam in his 20s) was raised and formed the band A Tribe Called Quest in 1985.
Earlier this year, former Harlem Stage director of programming Simone Eccleston was named director of hip hop culture and contemporary music at the Kennedy Center, where the 2017-18 season includes roughly a dozen hip hop events. Next after the Nov. 20 concert is “In The Beginning Dance Party” on Friday, Dec. 8, at 7 p.m. in the atrium.
On Dec. 3, rapper LL Cool J will be one of the five honorees at the Kennedy Center Honors, the center’s annual awards for lifetime artistic achievement.
Tickets for “Pioneering Emcees, Vol. 1” on Nov. 20 are $19 to $69. For details, visit kennedy-center.org.