By COLIN HARRIS
Martha Brogdon was tired of her students thinking musicians like Jay-Z and L'il Wayne represented the beginning and end of African-American recording artists, so she decided to do something about it.
Brogdon conceived and wrote "Legends," a musical ensemble that celebrates the African-American experience through song and dance. The troupe performed two shows on Thursday at Kent State Trumbull, as a part of the university's celebration of Black History Month.
"I was a middle school teacher, and my kids always wanted to talk about that rap thing," Brogdon joked. "I told them that they had no idea where music really came from. They were so stuck on the millions that Jay-Z makes now that they don't understand the struggle it took for him to be able to do that."
Brogdon's 90-minute show provided a stage for great African-American performers, as local singers took on the persona of famous artists like Jackie Wilson, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong and many others as the troupe took a historical look at the history of black entertainers.
“Legends” singers and dancers perform on the stage at Kent State University at Trumbull on Thursday afternoon. Photo by R. Michael Semple
A former teacher at Legacy Academy for Leaders & Arts in Youngstown, Brogdon said the show originated as a school project.
"I started out doing little pieces (on individual performers), but then I started to see the vision for an entire show," said Brogdon, who has been involved in stage shows for nearly 30 years. "There were just so few black shows out there, that I said we're going to create something and make it work."
Alongside the singers who Brogdon said have been performing for years, the playwright also has brought in youth dancers from Youngstown Connection, a dance troupe made up of high school-aged students from the Mahoning Valley area.
"Several of the (dancers) are from Connection, and they just jumped right in when we asked them," Brogdon said. "They learned the dances quickly and everything just has all worked."
Kenneth Brown, a California resident and director of the performance, said that the group has been preparing for a month to put on Thursday's shows.
"The show has been performed on and off over the years, but (Brogdon) was asked by (Kent State Trumbull) to put on the show for Black History month," Brown said. "So we've been working together since back around Christmastime to put on the performance."
Brogdon's show is not new to the area, having first raised the curtain in 2003 with a performance at the Youngstown Playhouse. Since then, the show has been performed at the King Center in Columbus, as well as other performance centers across the state.
Brogdon said that the plan going forward is to take the show outside of the state, as dates in cities like Atlanta and Orlando, Fla., are in the works for this summer.