Renaissance Gems of Black Belt Chicago (Celeste Beatty, Ann Eskridge, Christine Melton, Reginald R. Robinson)

Chicago, Illinois
Musical Theater, Theater

Artistic collaborators from four American cities connect serendipitously to dramatize history with the support of rare artifacts. Reginald R. Robinson (Chicago) is a self-taught MacArthur “Genius” who emphasizes story-telling through his musical compositions; Christine Melton (Philadelphia) has penned several historical plays for schools; Celeste Beatty (Winston-Salem) and Ann Eskridge (Detroit) inherited memorabilia of vaudevillians, Dan McCabe and Alfred Anderson, that has not been seen since the early 1900s when it was stored in family attics. These four artists will create a trilogy of plays linked together with Robinson’s original ragtime music to compose a cohesive work. The Bet, a play by Eskridge, is inspired by a 1912 Chicago Defender newspaper article about a kidnapped composer, Alfred Anderson, whose ransom is his music. Melton will script McCabe’s Minstrels about the producer-turned-poet Dan McCabe. Lyrics by luminaries on McCabe’s roster will bridge different worlds that are centuries apart: Shakespeare’s theatre in 1500s London and McCabe’s Pekin Theatre in 1800s Chicago. Bards and Bets will be a series of multimedia vignettes using the discovered memorabilia to create a play within a play recalling McCabe and Anderson’s work with the vaudeville elite.

Renowned lecturer, pianist/composer, Reginald R. Robinson, is a 2004 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow for his “Innovative Ragtime Piano Works and Music Research.” His 1993 debut album with 17 original tunes, was on Delmark Records. Robinson appeared on acclaimed Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz; was contributing historian for the 2010 documentary Chicago’s Black Metropolis; gave a performance/lecture on Scott Joplin’s music at The Schomburg NY; Symphony Center Presents commissioned his work on James Reese Europe; composed for Chicago’s Goodman Theater; created a Ragtime Work for the left hand; and collaborated with MacArthur fellows in Disability Activism, and Illinois Humanities for “An Evening at the Pekin Theater” in 2017.