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Celebrating Black Music Month in Newport News

Join Us June 5 in City Center for “Music Through the Decades”

Prepare to tap your feet and move to the groove of Newport News! Join us for an unforgettable block party, Music Through the Decades,” as we celebrate Black Music Month in style. Everyone is invited to dress in attire from their favorite musical decade for a chance to win a prize!

The event, to be held from 5 to 8:30 p.m. in City Center, is presented by African American Cultural Experiences (AACE), a new tourism initiative that celebrates and promotes the rich cultural heritage of the African American community in Newport News.

Delve into AACE and you’ll discover that many of the artists who’ve shaped today’s music scene hail from Newport News! Below you’ll find a small sampling of the remarkable musical talent that has emerged from our city, legends we proudly call our own …

Ella Fitzgerald – Born in Newport News in 1917, Ella Fitzgerald, also known as the “First Lady of Song,” was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums. To commemorate her status as a daughter of Newport News, the city named a portion of 24th Street “Ella Fitzgerald Way” in 2008 and named the theater at Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center the Ella Fitzgerald Theater.
Pearl Bailey – Singer, author, and humanitarian, Pearl Bailey was born in Newport News in 1918 and lived on 29th Street. Bailey is perhaps best known for her 1968 Tony Award-winning performance in an all-Black production of “Hello, Dolly!” She also received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 1976 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1988. A public library near Bailey’s birth home is named for and features a large mural of her on the building’s exterior. In 1988, she returned to Newport News for a re-dedication at the library and to read to children there. She passed away in 1990. 
Queen Esther Marrow – Soul and gospel singer, Queen Esther Marrow, is a living legend in the world of arts and entertainment, but she never forgot her hometown. One of her first albums was titled “Newport News, Virginia.” She was discovered by Duke Ellington and debuted on his famous “Sacred Concert” tour. In 1965, she joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for his “World Crusade” and became involved in the Civil Rights movement. In the 1970s, she appeared as an original cast member in the Broadway production of “The Wiz.” She has performed with Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Mahalia Jackson, plus more, in addition to singing for presidents, royalty, and the pope!
Robert Cray Robert Cray – Blues guitarist and singer, Robert Cray emerged from Newport News with his soulful voice and masterful guitar playing, earning acclaim for his electrifying performances and innovative approach to the blues genre. The five-time Grammy winner has been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and earned the Americana Music Awards Lifetime Achievement for Performance. Over the years, he has shared the stage with heavy hitters like The Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, and Eric Clapton, to name just a few. Cray was born in Georgia, but his father’s military service led to a relocation to Newport News. Cray’s musical beginnings started when he played in his first band, called The One-Way Street, as a student at Denbigh High School.
The Five Keys Lyrics, Songs, and Albums | Genius The Five Keys – Pioneers of rhythm and blues music, The Five Keys were a vocal group who were instrumental in shaping this genre in the 1950s. They were formed in Newport News in the late 1940s with the original name of Sentimental Four. The name of the band was changed to The Five Keys after one member left the group and was replaced by two others. The group, known for their tight harmonies and infectious melodies, was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002. With hits like “The Glory of Love” and “Out of Sight, Out of Mind,” they left an indelible mark on the music landscape of their time.
The Unifics | Discography | Discogs
  1. The Unifics – The Unifics, known for their smooth harmonies and dapper attire, were a soul vocal group founded in the 1960s by two Newport News natives and childhood friends: Al Johnson and Thomas Fauntleroy. They – along with two additional members of the band – rose to prominence in the late 1960s and early ’70s, scoring Top 40 hits with “Court of Love” and “The Beginning of My End.” The Unifics’ stage show was built around smooth harmonies, soulful melodies, and signature choreography, which earned them a dedicated following and a legacy in the world of soul music.

One final reminder to join us June 5 for an unforgettable evening of music, culture, and community. Not only will you be treated to the iconic sounds of Black music from various decades (changing every hour), but the event also includes karaoke, games, contests, dancing, food trucks, art exhibits, vendors, community resources, demonstrations, and more! Mark your calendars and join us as we come together to honor Black Music Month and celebrate its enduring legacy in style.