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‘Memory activism’: Summer of Sound festival celebrates music and stories of Black Portland musicians

The four-event series celebrates the Black musicians, culture and rich history of Portland’s Albina neighborhood.

PORTLAND, Oregon — Thursday, July 14 kicks off a four-event series throughout Portland. Summer of Sound is a multi-generational festival celebration of Black music in the Rose City – connecting past to present.

“The work we’re doing here is memory activism,” Albina Music Trust archivist Bobby Smith said.

The festival is part of the Albina Music Trust’s mission to preserve North Portland’s music culture and Black history. It’s a continuation of the work Kenneth Berry and the World Arts Foundation have been doing since 1976.

“Well, I think it’s very important because as we get older — or more seasoned, I like to use that term sometimes — it’s important that we’re able to share our story and pass it on to our young,” Berry said.

Each of the festival's four events connects storytelling and history through music. It started Thursday in the heart of the Albina neighborhood on the corner of Northeast Sumner and Northeast 23rd at the Alberta House.

Vin Shambry is the artistic director of the non-profit space.

“Alberta House is an amazing arts organization. It’s a 501c3,” Shambry said. “We have ballet dancers during the day, we have book signings, and now we have incredible Albina Music Trust.”  

The building itself is a part of Portland’s Black history. It was once a church in the once thriving Black community that was Albina.

“I think right when you come up you’ll see this beautiful mural, painted by Latoya Lovely who was actually our first resident artist and I think it’s the first sign to let you know that you’re welcomed and invited,” Shambry said. “And once you come in you’re bombarded by color – and it’s color of history, from the paintings but also the music that you’re going to hear.”  

The first event is called Soul Conversations – Living History in Albina. It will bring together elders in the Albina neighborhood to the stage to share their stories.

“The streets of Albina reveal little trace of the thriving Black community that once occupied this part of Portland. Much of what we can discover today rests in the collective memory of the elders who lived it,” according to Albina Music Trust. 

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“We really want to connect individuals in this community and reconnect bonds that have been broken through historic and systemic disinvestment in this neighborhood, through redlining, and the resulting gentrification and police brutality that’s occurred here in Albina over many decades,” Smith said.

The event features Paul Knauls, Sr., Norman Sylvester, Calvin Walkers, Kenneth Berry, J.W. Friday and Jeddy Beasley. Archival photos will also showcase the historic music culture. The event will close out with a performance by Charlie Brown III and friends.

“Summer of Sound, it holds a special place for me in terms of generationally in where I’ve come up in Northeast Portland and in the music scene here,” Brown said. “And to highlight where my ancestors, and my elders, and my teachers have come from.”

Brown led Thursday’s show as well as other performances in the festival.  Summer of Sound showcases a mix of music – created here in the community through the decades.

“To be able to play some of their music, but also showcasing some of the cool stuff that we’re doing — mixing a little bit of both worlds,” Brown said.

The festival is a living history illustrated through music that has been passed down so that it can be preserved and celebrated. It is a chance to inspire the next generation of artists while connecting them to the collective past.

“I think it’s really important to be seen,” Shambry said. “When you see someone like an elder who is talking about that history – that history is you. And when you’re on stage, it gives you the ability to be seen fully and when you realize you’re enough – that’s just the start.”

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Here’s a schedule of events for Summer of Sound:

  • Thursday, July 14 at 7 p.m.: Soul Conversation – an oral history panel with Albina’s elder musicians (Alberta House 5131 NE 23rd Ave.)
  • Sunday, July 17 at 7 p.m.:  Time Sound: Albina’s Jazz Reimagined by Brown Branch ft. Greaterkind (Cathedral Park Jazz Festival)
  • Thursday, August 4 at 7 p.m.: Wall to Wall Soul – art opening and album release listening party (Clyde’s Prime Rib)
  • Saturday, August 6 at 6 p.m.: Time Sound: Albina’s Jazz Reimagined by Brown Branch ft. Greaterkind (Washington Park Rose Garden)

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For more information visit Albina Music Trust's website.

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