By Jim Williams
WASHINGTON — Finally, The Roots are getting the recognition they deserve.
Most of the country might be learning about the iconic band from Philadelphia, but hip-hop fans speak of the group in reverent tones of respect. The history of the band is highlighted in a special on The critically acclaimed PBS program “NEXT at the Kennedy Center,” titled “The Roots Residency,” now streaming on PBS Passport.
It was the first hip-hop residency and was a first for Simone Eccleston, who serves as the inaugural Director of Hip Hop Culture and Contemporary Music at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Known for electrifying live performances that blend hip hop, jazz, rap, soul, and funk, The Roots regularly sell out concert venues when they are not serving as the house band for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. “The Roots Residency” takes music fans beyond the stage, couplilifeves concert footage with a look at the band’s curatorial endeavors, masterclasses, and humanitarian activities from their residency at the Kennedy Center. Respected cultural trailblazers, frontmen Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, are committed to inspiring and educating rising artists.
Viewers will meet EZY Truth, a Washington, D.C.-based hip-hop artist and member of Black Thought’s “School of Thought,” a mentoring program for aspiring emcees. They will hear from Durrand Bernarr, an emerging R&B artist who participated in “The Road to the Roots Picnic,” a series of curated live performances that launched virtually during the pandemic. The episode also includes moments from “Music is History,” Questlove’s discussion with Reverend Al Sharpton about the drummer’s latest book, as well as Black Thought’s “Streams of Thought” conversation with photographer David Allen.
“The Roots have existed at the forefront of culture for over three decades. They are deeply committed to ensuring that generations of artists and communities see themselves powerfully reflected through their work and at venerable institutions like the Kennedy Center,” Eccleston said. “‘The Roots Residency’ is a testament to their capacity to change individuals’ lives and transform institutions. The impact of our partnership is that we are forever changed as an organization. Through their residency, The Roots have created powerful platforms for the celebration of multihyphenates, cultural leaders, and emerging artists. We hope that viewers experience their genius as performers, curators, and cultural catalysts.”
If you think hip-hop and PBS might be a strange combination, you would be wrong: of the network’s top executives, Sylvia Bugg (PBS chief programming executive and general manager of general audience programming) put the record straight.
“We heard that we would have an opportunity to showcase The Roots and we jumped at the opportunity because we strive to create experiences in programming where all of our audience can see themselves reflected in our shows,” Bugs said. “So perhaps I am aging myself, but I knew about The Roots before they landed on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. So just to see this moment for me personally come full circle is extremely gratifying it is wonderful to be able to bring more of these kinds of experiences where we can reach a wider range of audiences with this kind of programming.”
To hear more about “NEXT at the Kennedy Center,” titled “The Roots Residency listen to Stream On with Jim Williams at Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
Edited by Joseph Hammond
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