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Civil Rights leader praises Minneapolis Institute of Art for Philando Castile exhibit

Bryan Steveson, above, founded the Equal Justice Initiative, the nonprofit behind Alabama's new National Memorial for Peace and Justice. (Courtesy Minneapolis Institute of Art.)

Museums and cultural spaces have the power to change the stories we tell ourselves about the United States, Bryan Stevenson argued during a talk Friday in Minneapolis.

And he would know.

Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative -- the nonprofit behind the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., which insists that the country grapple with its ugly history of white supremacy, including the lynching of thousands of black people.

His talk was held at the Minneapolis Institute of Art as part of its exhibit "Art and Healing: In the Moment," inspired by Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man who was fatally shot by a police officer in 2016.

"I was thrilled to hear about the Castile exhibit," Stevenson told the sold-out crowd. "I think cultural spaces in this country have often been complicit in creating the barriers to equality and justice...

"So when we open up our doors and begin to recognize our power to be contributors to the narrative change that we so desperately need in this country, amazing things begin to happen," he continued. "And I'm really thrilled that has happened in this space."

Once referred to by Archbishop Desmond Tutu as "America's Nelson Mandela," Stevenson is a civil-rights lawyer, acclaimed author of "Just Mercy" and an in-demand speaker. Minneapolis was one of his three stops on Friday. (He flew to Detroit first, Atlanta after.)

During an hourlong speech, which he seemed to give without notes, Stevenson told stories about his childhood, about working with prisoners on death row. He called for a more complete history of racism and civil rights in the country. 

He also talked about how his driver had brought him through black neighborhoods in the Twin Cities that day. The black people in Minneapolis and St. Paul -- and cities across the country -- "came to these communities as refugees and exiles from terror in the American south," Stevenson said. "There's a line from Minneapolis to Mississippi..."

Rather than deal with that trauma, he said, “we just created little ghettos.”

Cultural institutions must open up their spaces to grapple with this history, Stevenson argued. Some people believe that by creating the lynching memorial, he wants to punish America for its history. But that's not true, he said: “I want to liberate America.”

"On the other side of truth-telling in this country there is something better waiting for us..." Stevenson said. There's a better kind of community "where we're not burdened by this history in the same way. Where we don't presume people are dangerous and guilty because of their color. Where we don't separate children and parents ... at the border.

"That kind of America is waiting for us."

Saturday night live: Dee Dee Bridgewater electrifies, Allman Brothers' scions shine

Devon Allman and Duane Betts

Devon Allman and Duane Betts

Saturday was a great night to be out and about listening to music. I caught Dee Dee Bridgewater at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival and the Devon Allman Project at the Dakota. Here are reports.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Grammy- and Tony-winning jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater grew up in Memphis, listening to WDIA radio where her dad was a DJ. Even when the family relocated to Michigan, she kept listening to the R&B station. So, after recording mostly jazz albums for years, Bridgewater last year delivered “Memphis…Yes, I’m Ready,” a tribute to the music of her youth.

That material was the focus of her headlining performance at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival on a very pleasant Saturday night at jam-packed Mears Park in St. Paul’s Lowertown.

Backed by a first-rate R&B ensemble with horns and female backup singers, Bridgewater, 68, opened with what was the first song she heard on WDIA – “Giving Up,” an old Gladys Knight hit. The rest of the repertoire was a tour through ‘60s and ‘70s R&B and blues – Al Green’s “Can’t Get Next to You,” Barbara Mason’s “Yes, I’m Ready,” Carla Thomas’ “B.A.B.Y.” and Ann Peebles’ “Can’t Stand the Rain.”

Bridgewater did justice to them all, and she electrified with Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” which whipped her and the crowd into a soulful frenzy. B.B. King’s blues chestnut “The Thrill Is Gone” led into a medley of classics not on Bridgewater’s album including Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady” and Sly Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).”

A dynamic performer with precise phrasing, Bridgewater encored with a nod to the Twin Cities, a reading of Prince’s “Purple Rain," which has become an obvious go-to encore for visiting musicians since his passing in 2016.

Devon Allman Project

A mix of jam-band followers and old Allman Brothers fans filled the Dakota Jazz Club late Saturday for the Devon Allman Project featuring the children of two Allman Brothers mainstays – Gregg Allman’s son Devon and Dickey Betts’ son Duane.

After an opening set by Duane Betts’ band, the Devon Allman Project took the stage for a long, nearly two-hour set that chronicled the band leader’s musical journey.

With shoulder-length hair and mutton-chop sideburns, Devon, 45, looks more like his Uncle Duane than like his father. Plus, Devon played guitar – practically a different one on every tune – not organ.

Clearly, Devon is very musical -- a skilled guitarist with a rich, robust voice. He loves a variety of music as evidenced by his covers of the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil,” the Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around” and the Church’s “Under the Milky Way” plus his blues-rock originals and, of course, favorites from the Gregg Allman (“Multi-Colored Lady,” delivered on Gregg’s acoustic guitar) and the Allman Brothers.

The proficient Betts sat in on guitar on several numbers as did outstanding slide guitarist Johnny Stachela (from Betts’ band), who brought a deliciously Southern vibe to the sound.

St. Paul’s own Nicholas David, the finalist from NBC’s “The Voice,” was Allman’s organist, and he was featured on lead vocals for “Lean on Me,” the Bill Withers’ hit that David predictably made his own.

Betts handled vocals on a knockout version of the Allmans’ “Blue Sky,” sounding a bit like his dad. And Devon sounded like his dad, with better enunciation and more oomph, on the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider.”

When it came time for an encore, Devon acknowledged that some fan at the Dakota yelled “No ‘Whipping Post,’” referring to the much-requested Allmans classic. “That was a first,” Devon noted of the negative plea.

So the Devon Allman Project encored with – what else? – “Purple Rain,” a nine-minute treatment featuring Stachela’s slide solo and David’s “real sweet piano” (Devon’s words).

Me? I would have preferred “One Way Out” or even “Whipping Post.”

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