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Rufus Reid Lets Loose in Memory of Elizabeth Catlett

By Bailey Gabrielle
Photography by Alyson Kuennen

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Big band melodies, resonating vocals – this was not your mother’s jazz concert.

“We are here to celebrate Elizabeth Catlett,” announced Reid at the start of the event lovingly called Quiet Pride. “As far as I’m concerned, she is truly a national treasure. I believe that here at Iowa, people are starting to realize what that really means.”

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Elizabeth Catlett was the first person to earn their Masters of Fine Arts at Iowa. Catlett, a sculptor and printmaker, used art to convey social messages.

In the late 1940s, Catlett moved to Mexico. In 1962, she became a citizen. When Catlett applied for a visa to attend a showing of her work in New York, she was denied entrance because of her activism. Her response? That she was proud to be a revolutionary black artist and if that is a threat to the US — so be it.  

Elizabeth Catlett was proud to be an African American woman. Her work is proof of that. Rufus Reid was inspired to write Quiet Pride after falling in love with five of Catlett’s sculptures: Recognition, Mother and Child, Stargazer, Singing Head, and Glory. In 2015, Quiet Pride was nominated for Grammys for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album and Best Instrumental Composition for “Recognition.”

Reid’s concert at Hancher auditorium was a jubilate collection of sounds. In “Singing Head,” vocalist Charente Wade started the piece by approaching the grand piano on stage. She stuck her head into the piano and vocalized into the strings. The strings began to vibrate and produce sound, creating a surreal and angelic effect.

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Laughs were shared on and off stage. “Can you see that we are enjoying each other? We can’t expect you to enjoy it if we don’t enjoy ourselves,” Reid said. At times the audience couldn’t contain themselves. The conductor had to motion multiple times to the audience as if to say, “wait, it’s not over yet.”

The Big Band style was a perfect complement to Catlett’s work. The screaming trumpets and saxophones were as powerful as the vocals-sans-lyrics and the pianist who tickled the keys with ease. The boisterous, riotous “Quiet Pride” was not quiet at all, but neither was Catlett.

Elizabeth Catlett is a name that embodies more than just a woman – Catlett encompasses strength and female power. Catlett is unapologetic ambition. Catlett is “the future is female.” Catlett is fighting for what you believe in.

Elizabeth Catlett is in all of us.

 

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