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Upcoming Wordsmith event at Newark Symphony Hall to celebrate the legacy of Amiri Baraka

Amiri Baraka, shown here in 1972, was a renowned poet whose politics strongly shaped his work.
Amiri Baraka, shown here in 1972, was a renowned poet whose politics strongly shaped his work.

On October 7, 2022, Wordsmith and Danny Simmons will present A Tribute to Amiri Baraka at Newark Symphony Hall. In keeping with the late poet’s legacy, the performance will blend music with spoken word. Among the musicians slated to perform are Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Nioka Workman, Orrin Evans and WBGO’s own Lezlie Harrison. Poets contributing to this cross-genre collaboration include Danny Simmons, Kraal “Kayo” Charles, Toni Blackman, Khemist, as well as some special guests.

Born and raised in Newark, Baraka was a lifelong jazz fan. “I wanted to look like that too—that green shirt and rolled up sleeves on Milestones...always wanted to look like that,” he told NPR in 2014. “And be able to play ‘On Green Dolphin Street’ or ‘Autumn Leaves’... That gorgeous chilling sweet sound. That's the music you wanted playing when you was coming into a joint, or just looking up at the sky with your baby by your side, that mixture of America and them changes, them blue African magic chants."

After his early career as a noted author and playwright under his born name of Leroi Jones, Baraka would go on to become not only a jazz poet, but jazz’s poet. Founder of the Black Arts Literary Movement, Baraka was the spokesperson for a movement for Black artists and writers to speak for their music and culture. After decades of creative and activist work, Baraka died in 2014 and his funeral was held at the Newark Symphony Hall, the site of this tribute.

For over 27 years, Lee Mergner served as an editor and publisher of JazzTimes until his resignation in January 2018. Thereafter, Mergner continued to regularly contribute features, profiles and interviews to the publication as a contributing editor for the next 4+ years. JazzTimes, which has won numerous ASCAP-Deems Taylor awards for music journalism, was founded in 1970 and was described by the All Music Guide, as “arguably the finest jazz magazine in the world.”