Black History Trilogy returns to Flushing Town Hall

By Stephanie Meditz

“The Challenge to Defy Gravity” will feature several special guests, including The Savoy Swingers.

This Black History Month, Flushing Town Hall will once again celebrate Black history and culture with its Black History Trilogy.

The Trilogy is a series of three performances by a lineup of artists who pay homage to Black culture and iconic performers.

The first installment took place on Feb. 3 with The Chuck Berry Rock & Roll Concert Party, featuring vocalist and guitarist Keith “The Captain” Gamble.

The Trilogy will continue on Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. with “The Challenge to Defy Gravity,” a workshop and dance performance presented by choreographer Mickey Davidson.

Mickey Davidson will bring swing-era dance moves to Flushing Town Hall on Feb. 10.

“The night will consist of a tapestry of cultural expressions that were popular at the same time as the Lindy Hop,” Davidson said. “The title ‘Defying Gravity’ symbolizes the air steps that the specialized dancers who danced in the northeast corner of the Savoy Ballroom did.”

Known as the “Home of Happy Feet,” the Savoy Ballroom was a place of social movement during the swing era that cultivated the Lindy Hop.

“Dance steps that migrated with the people to the big cities such as New York found their way into the Savoy Ballroom,” she said. “As a dancer and as an African American dancer, the history of African American dance has always been important to me in finding my own identity and my own pride in my culture.”

Davidson has studied with Norma Miller, Frankie Manning and Alfred “Pepsi” Bethel, some of the most influential dancers and choreographers of the swing era.

“For me personally, I see this period of dance as a real blending of Afrocentric and Eurocentric cultural concepts that developed here in America as a result of us all living together,” she said. “And the music and the dance are one, they’re not separate. So when you do this dance, you are moving musically. You’re listening and it’s a three-way street between two people and the music…it’s part of an overall story of a people.”

The Big City Stompers, who work specifically on air steps, will demonstrate the swift movements and literally defy gravity at the performance.

Not only will audience members see these steps in action, but they will experience dancing with a partner to live music in real time.

Prior to the performance, there will be a workshop in which all attendees can learn and experience swing-era dancing firsthand, regardless of prior dance experience.

“Culturally, that was the learning process in the African American community with this type of dancing,” Davidson said. “You come, you become part of a community and you learn on the dance floor. And so we are mixing…the European process of giving directions and counts with just allowing yourself to have an experience.”

Davidson will collaborate with band leader and longtime musician, Patience Higgins.

“We’re all performing, dancing, playing music from our hearts and from the essence of who we are as artists in the music of jazz,” she said.

Davidson is primary choreographer and director for Mickey D. & Friends, a group of artists, dancers, and musicians that explore the interlocking relationships between movement and music.

The group performs various types of African American dance, including tap, sanding, swing, modern, jazz and abstract jazz.

Tickets for “The Challenge to Defy Gravity” are available for $15 or $12 for members, seniors and students with ID at

“I just like to have a good party, so come out and hang out because culturally, hanging out is a big part of learning and experiencing African American culture at its best,” Davidson said. “African American culture being developed in America includes all kinds of people and all kinds of expression. That’s what makes it a universal art. So if you like music, if you like being around people, if you like to dance…come hang out and have a good time, and let’s be a community.”

On Feb. 24 at 8 p.m., the Black History Trilogy will conclude with “Soul Men: The Music of Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding and More” featuring vocalist Billy Cliff.

On Feb. 24, Billy Cliff will pay tribute to some of the most iconic men in R&B/soul music.

The lineup will feature songs from iconic soul artists in film, R&B and pop music.

“We’re doing all this music just to commemorate all these great men who have contributed to soul music,” Cliff said.

Originally a child actor at the Amas Repertory Theatre, Cliff discovered his powerful voice and began singing in choirs.

His first professional gig was singing backup for R&B singer Angela Bofill.

“That was really the beginning of my career. From there, I was singing background for a lot of different people,” he said. “I sang background for Maxwell, to singing lead for Kool & The Gang and singing lead for Spyro Gyra. And then ended up on a two year tour with the Pet Shop Boys in Europe and around the world.”

As a musician, Cliff is most inspired by Marvin Gaye, primarily because he wrote and produced music with a message.

“[Soul music] is about the stories and the people. A lot of it had to do with the people who made the music,” he said. “That’s one thing about soul music: you’ve always got great people doing this music that is basically a music of people who have…lived through something, people who have experienced real life.”

Cliff’s music career was also influenced by his mother, Tina Fabrique, who sang the theme song for Reading Rainbow. Last year, Fabrique closed out Flushing Town Hall’s Black History Trilogy paying homage to Gospel with “The Power & The Glory—Music of the Black Church.”

“The producer of the show called my mother and said, ‘Hey, I need a guy who can really do a great tribute to soul men.’ She said, ‘Oh, my son is a great performer,’” he said. “So that’s how this all came to be, pretty much.”

During his 30 years in the industry, Cliff has worked with big names such as Freddie Jackson, Ashford & Simpson, The Blues Brothers Band and Steve Cropper, who wrote “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay” with Otis Redding.

Cliff will release an EP of new, original music in the spring.

“I’m trying to dismiss the myth that after 50 years old, you can’t get out here and do something that’s meaningful and that will touch people in the world, musically,” he said. “I want people to know that, as long as you’ve got a great heart, you’ve got a great mind and your body’s not too far away from those two, that you can get out here and you can do something and inspire folks.”

Tickets for “Soul Men” are available for $15 or $12 for members, seniors and students with ID at

“This month being Black music month, it’s a great time for people to come out and see and hear some of the greatest R&B and soul music in history,” Cliff said.

Ukrainian bandura master to join Cuban musicians

“Ukraine Meets Cuba” at Flushing Town Hall Aug. 21

Julian Kytasty, Danae Blanco and Juan Carlos Formell.

Later this month, concert-goers of Flushing Town Hall will experience a unique cultural blend.

As part of their most in-demand series, Common Ground: Mini-Global Mashups, Flushing Town Hall will continue its summer run with the Ukraine Meets Cuba concert on August 21 at 1 p.m.

The concert will feature Julian Kytasty, master of the Ukrainian bandura, which is essentially a Ukrainian lute or harp, and Havana-based singer Danae Blanco.

They will be accompanied by Grammy-nominated Cuban guitarist Juan Carlos Formell.

Julian Kytasty was born in Detroit, Michigan, but prides himself in being the descendant of Ukrainian immigrants.

In fact, Kytasty’s first language was Ukrainian, and he’s been playing the bandura since he was a child—carrying on the family tradition.

He is one of the world’s premier players of the bandura, and the instrument’s leading North American exponent.

Kytasty has performed and taught instrumental and choral music throughout the Americas and Europe.

“I developed a very close relationship with the instrument over the years and everything associated with it. I’ve done a lot of research on it,” he said.

“The bandura is such a beautiful, unique instrument that many people probably haven’t heard, and I’m always looking for opportunities to bring it to new audiences.”

Kytasty has been recognized for his expertise in epic songs and early bandura repertoire.

From 1989 to 1990, Kytasty was one of the first North American-born bandurists to tour Ukraine, performing in over 100 concerts.

Blanco provides a welcomed counterpoint to Cuba’s typically male-dominated timba music with her feisty delivery and enchanting lyrics, and has even been credited with bringing salsa romantica into the 21st century.

In 1993, Blanco joined the famous Cuban underground group 5U4, also known as “The Beatles of the Americas,” as a vocalist.

She released her debut single, “Pido,” in 2003 and has been a mainstay in Cuban music since.

Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Juan Carlos Formell is at the forefront of a new generation of musicians from Cuba who are redefining the parameters of Cuban music.

A talented multi-instrumentalist, Formell has been hailed as a successor to iconic Cuban artists such as Caetano Veloso, Joao Gilberto, Jackson Browne and Nick Drake.

Juan Carlos’ father, Juan Formell, is a bassist and the founder of the trailblazing group Los Van Van.

“Audiences can look forward to enjoying amazing performers whose music is tied to their traditions but simultaneously modernized and fused with other musical elements that expand their borders,” said Frank London, acclaimed trumpeter and composer and curator of the series.

“We are so lucky to be able to put on these Mini-Global Mashups each month and give the fans a great show,” says Flushing Town Hall Executive & Artistic Director Ellen Kodadek.

“I am looking forward to our audience being able to experience the phenomenal musical talents of Julian Kytasty, Danae Blanco, and Juan Carlos Formell.”

The August 21st performance will be followed by a Q+A conversation between the artists and the audience.

In-person tickets are $12 for Flushing Town Hall members and $15 for non-members. Those who are unable to attend in person can view the livestream for free at Donations are encouraged.

For the Mini-Global Mashup series’ full schedule and to purchase tickets, visit: or call (718) 463-7700 x222.

For the venue’s full schedule of 2022 Summer and Fall  events, visit:

Flushing Town Hall celebrates 160th anniversary

Flushing Town Hall celebrated the 160th anniversary of its historic facility on Northern Boulevard. To commemorate the occasion, Flushing Town Hall held its “Happy Birthday Gala” on June 9th honoring New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and CUNY Queens College President Frank H. Wu.

More than 125 people were in attendance for the historic event, which helped raise funds to support the landmarked building’s operations. The evening was filled with music, performances, networking, and an awards dinner in the renowned institution’s grand theater.

Howard Gilman Foundation Program Officer Emily Sproch (Photos By Dominick Totino)

While the Town Hall limited attendance this year, out of an abundance of caution due to the pandemic, it happily held its first in-person event since 2019.

“In spite of everything, culture never closed, and the arts are essential,” Flushing Town Hall Executive and Artistic Director Ellen Kodadek said. “It’s very simple actually, that’s what you can count on us for here at Flushing Town Hall.”

In attendance were Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, New York City Councilwoman Sandra Ung, New York State Sentator John Liu, Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson, and a representative for Council Speaker Adrienne Adams.

When attendees arrived, they were greeted by The Hellfighters—an ensemble created by Black, Harlem-based artists-educator Elijah J. Thomas—before enjoying performances by the New York Chinese Chours, and a “Global Mashup” featuring seven of New York’s finest musicians including Abdulaye Diop, Alioune Fayé, Frank London, Meg Okura, Arcoiris Sandoval, Cillian Vallely, and Jennifer Vincent, who were representing regions from all over the world, including Senegal, Mexico, and Asia.

The Gala was co-chaired by Flushing Town Hall Board Members Pauline Huang and Timothy Chen. Sponsors included Veronica Y. Tsang, Queens College, City University of New York, Raymond Jasen, Graf & Lewent Architects, Tai Wang/WAC Lighting/Glow Cultural Center/Glow Foundation, Viviana Benitez, TeHsing Niu, Emily Lin/Lin + Loveall Foundation, and New York-Presbyterian Queens.

During the event, Flushing Town Hall honored New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, the first Black woman to hold the position and proud representative of the 28th District in Queens. Robbie Welsh, co-director of the community outreach unit / community engagement division of the New York City Council Speaker’s Office, represented Adams, who was unable to attend due to budget negotiations.

Co-Director of the Community Outreach Unit/Community Engagement Division of the New York City Council Speaker’s Office Robbie Welsh

“Your stewardship of this historic institution has made Flushing Town Hall a welcome destination for residents of all ages to watch concerts, dance, theater, and much more,” Welsh said.

The second honoree, Queens College President Frank H. Wu, praised Flushing Town Hall for being a beacon of culture in the borough. “Through concerts and jam sessions,” he said, “Flushing Town Hall has helped to establish this borough as a home for jazz. That is the United States’ musical gift to the world: American classical music.”

During the evening, Howard Gilman Foundation Program Officer Emily Sproch called Flushing Town Hall “a very bright spot in this City’s cultural ecosystem,” announcing that the foundation made a $160,000 gift to Flushing Town Hall.

“One thousand dollars for each year of its impressive life,” Sproch said. “So happy birthday Flushing Town Hall, may you continue to be blessed, and may you continue to share these blessings with this remarkable community.”

Flushing Town Hall is a Smithsonian affiliate, which presents multi-disciplinary global arts that engage and educate the global communities of Queens and New York City in order to foster mutual appreciation. As advocates of arts equity since 1979, Flushing Town Hall supports local, immigrant, national, and international artists, developing partnerships, and collaborations that enhance its efforts. Part of the New York City’s Cultural Institutions Group, it serves to restore, manage and program the historic 1862 landmark on behalf of the City of New York. Flushing Town Hall iscommitted to arts education and hands-on learning, for the arts-curious, art enthusiasts, and professional artists. They continue to serve one of the most diverse communities in the world and strive to uphold the legacy of inclusiveness that has defined the community since the Flushing Remonstrance of 1657.

Flushing Town Hall awards $100K to Queens artists

Aligning with their mission to provide a platform to local artists, Flushing Town Hall announced it has awarded grant funding to various Queens-based artists and organizations.

After becoming a regranting partner for New York State Council on the Arts in their “Statewide Community Regrants” program, Flushing Town Hall administered Arts Grants for Queens.

Ten individual artists will receive grants of $2,500 each, and $91,032 in funding will be split across 33 organizations.

“We thank NYSCA for this opportunity and are overjoyed to be able to award our neighbors and peers in the borough with well-deserved funding,” Ellen Kodadek, executive and artistic director of Flushing Town Hall, said.

“The pandemic took a painful toll on the arts sector, and on Queens, but together we are resilient. With these regrants, we proudly invest in the artists and organizations who will bring us catharsis, healing and occasion to gather together again.”

A panel of artists, community leaders and stakeholders selected the artists and organizations that would receive grant funding via an application process that examined artistic merit, community benefit and project feasibility.
Included in the long list of grant recipients is Women in Comics Collective International Inc., an organization focused on providing support to marginalized groups as they navigate the comics industry.

As they celebrate their 10-year anniversary, Women in Comics Collective will use the awarded grant to fund WinC x King Manor, an outdoor comic book festival at the King Manor museum in Jamaica.

The event will take place on May 21 from 5 to 9 p.m. and will feature different workshops, art vendors and live model drawing with local cosplayers as the models.

“I was dancing around my house when I found out we were selected,” Regine Sawyer, founder and coordinator of Women in Comics Collective, said. “As a nonprofit, it’s so helpful to have this support to make events financially accessible to communities of color and other marginalized communities.”

“It is very important to us that our events are in communities that aren’t exposed to this, because there’s so many artists, writers and creators who come from these neighborhoods, but don’t have that hands-on experience interacting with industry professionals that they admire,” she added.

The diverse list of grantees also includes Culture Lab LIC, an organization that will offer an artist residency program providing artists with the space to produce new work, and indie artist Magdalena Kaczmarska of Rego Park for “Stories in the Moment,” providing Queens dementia patients with artistic opportunity.

Dan Bamba, director of arts services at Flushing Town Hall said that the institution is excited to be part of the first year of NYSCA’s regrant program.

“Flushing Town Hall may be best known as an arts presenter, and as an Arts Council, we also offer an array of services for aspiring and professional artists, as well,” Bamba said.

“In addition to these NYSCA regrants, we also offer Space Grants for artists developing work in our space and we host Artist Professional Development Conversations, a series of workshops addressing the business needs of artists, with topics ranging from fundraising to marketing to bookings.”

Bamba added that a private ceremony will be held to honor the grantees, and that Flushing Town Hall plans to reopen the program for a second year to continue to support the arts community in Queens.

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