In our work with community art engagement, our Community team has met some incredible artists and community leadership throughout Northwest Arkansas, but we have also encountered some harsh realities of systemic inequity, discrimination, and hardships our community has faced, even beyond the cloud of COVID-19. Through it all, each community member has learned to persevere and come out stronger than ever, sometimes through the art of food, painting, or music. In our Community Voices blog series, we invite a community member from Northwest Arkansas to tell us how art helps them heal through a conversation about their work and reflection on a piece of their choosing found in the Crystal Bridges collection.
Our first Community Voice spotlight is on Music Moves and the musical talent behind it all, Anthony Ball and Reggie James. The mission of Music Moves is to make African American Black music accessible to all members of our community through performances and educational initiatives.
Earlier this summer in June, Music Moves helped our region celebrate Black Music Month, first celebrated in June of 1979. Now in September, Music Moves is once again celebrating Black music by bringing us more educational programming to celebrate Gospel Music Heritage Month, which has been celebrated in Arkansas since 2011. They performed at Crystal Bridges’ Friday Nights on the Lawn on September 4.
On Saturday, September 26, Anthony Ball will be guest curating a virtual concert with the Momentary, Virtually There | Gospel Trio: “A Song in the Night” featuring Reggie on the piano and vocal powerhouses Ella Donnell Lambey and Ocie Fisher.
Reggie James is a pianist and organist and enjoys playing a wide variety of music from jazz and country to R&B, but his passion is church music. He has performed and shared the stage with gospel music greats including Kirk Franklin, Walter Hawkins, Point of Grace, Ben Rector, Dorinda Clark-Cole, O’Landa Draper, and The Associates to name a few. For over 30 years, he has been involved in Music Ministry and directed several local, regional, and national bands and choirs. In 2007, he joined the Christian Life Cathedral staff in Fayetteville, Arkansas as the Worship and Arts Pastor. He finds fulfillment in helping other organizations and individual musicians achieve their goals and visions.
Anthony Ball was born 10 minutes from Music City Memphis, in West Memphis, Arkansas. While his training ground was the gospel church, Ball’s professional career started after moving to Fayetteville, Arkansas in May 2007 to attend the University of Arkansas on a full scholarship to study music and business. He began touring all over the country and has worked with Paul Jackson Jr., Myles Savage of The Platters, Vernon Reid of Living Colour, Blind Boys of Alabama, Byron Cage, Bobby Rush, Richard Smallwood, and more. In 2010, Ball started his booking agency, Smoothman Music Production, to provide premier party bands and DJ entertainment experiences throughout the Midwest region. He now employs over 30 musicians and DJs. In the fall of 2019, Ball co-founded Music Moves.
We reached out to Reggie and Anthony to ask their thoughts on a reflection piece in the Crystal Bridges collection (they chose We the People by Nari Ward), and the healing power of gospel music. Please enjoy the Q&A below.
Crystal Bridges: Why did you choose We the People as your reflection piece?
Music Moves: We chose We the People because of the relevant message and its ability to propel us forward together. The very statement “we the people” evokes a tension in our country that seeks a resolve. Everyone had been searching to find themselves in the “We” since the inception of the country. In the last 10 years, I’ve heard my father ask the question: where is the group “we the people”? I have chosen to spend the later part of my life and work in searching for “we the people,” so it’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy and very ironic that this piece was one of the pieces used in this blog.
CB: What does We the People say to you? How does it make you feel?
MM: We the People can be seen as both an affirmative statement and a contrapositive statement. I feel the same conflict about the statement as I do about my previous statement. I want to explore the contrapositive. As Reggie says, “The people we are not, we the people.” We must first address the subject of “We” as a country. “We” as defined by Webster’s Dictionary means “everyone is included” when the statement is heard or proclaimed. In America, we know that this is simply not the truth. So, conversely, every time I hear the statement, I begin to reflect on how un-inclusive the country has been to people of color, particularly Black people since the very beginning of the country. I feel somewhat left in a vacuum waiting for something tangible to appear so I can hold on to the phrase “we the people.”
CB: What do you think the artist was trying to say with this piece?
MM: We the People says that we as a country must remember what makes us different is what makes us great. The Constitution’s Preamble is such an emblematic phrase. The strings of the tapestry complement the text so beautifully. The perfect medium of seemingly endless strings and the short phrase make for an impressionable message. It reminds us of one thing we all have in common, a unifying factor. Something as simple as a string, or “common thread,” if you will.
I think the artist was trying to say that through our infinite backgrounds and upbringings, we must reflect on the statement “we the people” and how we are connected. We must reflect on the good, the bad, the happy, and the sad of American history, but still carry on in hope and advocacy of a better day for everyone to participate with pride in the movement of “we the people.”
CB: How does this piece relate to the work you are doing in Northwest Arkansas?
MM: I feel a calling to action and work when looking at this piece. We want to continue working throughout the community to make it a better area for everyone―the “we,” if you will. This is exactly what Music Moves is committed to doing in Northwest Arkansas, the state, and ultimately our country. There is still work to be done.
CB: What does gospel music mean to you?
MM: I don’t have time to express what gospel music means to me, but I’ll try and soon up a few parts. The word gospel means “good news.” Good news is only good news when it is good news for everyone. Gospel music tells of pain, comfort, freedom, and a compelling way to share this news with everyone. The amount of information that can be transferred in a seven-word gospel song has carried a nation of Black folks when all they had was a promise of a better day and a song to remind them of that day. What’s great about gospel music is that it can do this for anyone.
CB: How has this art form helped you as an artist or organization get through hard times?
MM: Sorry I jumped here a little early. Lol. I’m grateful for growing up in the South during the ‘70s fresh out of the third civil rights movement, but the first dedicated to Black people in America. The speeches are still fresh, the songs are fresh, the feelings and the sentiment of some change began to shape who I am. I’ve always had a love for music but gospel/inspirational music found me in the late ‘70s and I’ve been sharing the story through music and words since. I really didn’t experience hard times until I was an adult and gospel music spoke a “good word” over my life and helped me find direction and healing for the journey.
Music Moves’ main objective is to share a part of the Black music experience and its importance in building our country. Gospel music has provided an essential and needed perspective of hope and destination during some of the lowest points in American history.
CB: What about gospel music makes you feel connected to people in our communities?
MM: I feel that gospel music connects us because of our need to clearly see the destination of all people living together in unity…not by force, but by choice. I also feel connected by an overwhelming urge to share the good news with everyone. “We the people” should agree on being “we the people” to love and serve our neighbor. Gospel means good news and in order for it to be good news it must be good news to everyone.
Thanks to Music Moves for participating in our Community Voices series.