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'A wonderful showcase for our city'
19th Annual Black Heritage Festival offers a variety of events
Scene from John Sayles's Honeydripper, starring Danny Glover, screening Feb. 5

THE SAVANNAH Black Heritage Festival has changed considerably since its beginning in 1990.

“The festival has grown from a two-day event to a festival that is held multiple days throughout the month,” says Eileen Baker, director of the City of Savannah’s Department of Cultural Affairs. “It has grown from a small, almost underground event to a wonderful showcase of our city.”

The 19th Annual Savannah Black Heritage Festival includes art exhibits, concerts, lectures, performances and a grand exposition at the civic center. The city sponsors most of the events, which are free and open to the public.

The grand exposition is one of the most anticipated events of the festival. “That day will begin with a walk,” Baker says. “There will be vendors in the arena and performers on the stage of the civic center, and children’s arts and crafts on the second floor.

“We are very excited because Roberta Flack is going to perform,” Baker says. “We try to make sure we have someone who will be of interest to all ages and groups in Savannah.

“Baby boomers are very familiar with Roberta Flack’s music,” Baker says. “Her music has been covered by modern performers, as well.”

Preparation begins far in advance. “We spend a lot of time evaluating who is coming to the festival,” Baker says. “This year, Savannah State partnered with the Convention and Visitors Bureau, so the festival has been marketed nationwide.”

Shirley B. James has coordinated the festival since 2002. “I got involved when Savannah State University was asked to begin to coordinate and produce the festival for the city,” she says.

Planning for the next festival begins immediately after the current one ends, and planning for some events begins as much as two to three years in advance. The efforts have paid off, and the festival attracts thousands of visitors.

“The first year I coordinated the festival, there were 7,000 in attendance,” James says. “Now with our outreach, attendance is up to 20,000 to 30,000 people.”

The festival also has grown in quality and scope. “What we’re attempting to do is bring in things that aren’t only entertaining, but educational as well,” James says.

This year, the festival will bring in all types of performers and performances, ranging from dance, theater and visual arts to lectures and educational exhibits. The festival also spotlights health issues.

James is particularly proud of the relationships that the festival has developed with local arts organizations. Collaborative efforts with entities such as the Savannah College of Art and Design, the Telfair and the Beach Institute have made the festival stronger.

“Through collaborative scheduling, we were able to have Mavis Staples,” James says. “Her appearance was scheduled to fall in line with the Black Heritage Festival.”

The Savannah Book Festival is happening at the same time as the Black Heritage Festival, which benefits both, James says. “Collaborative scheduling helps all the organizations involved,” she says.

Thursday, Jan. 31

Sankofa African-American Museum on Wheels

What: Sankofa founder Angela Jennings is bringing one of the foremost collections of African-American history to Savannah. As part of the exhibit, she will present stories and dramatizations about selected periods and historical figures that span the period of 1850 to the present. When: Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. Hours are Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.Where: Savannah State University’s Adams Hall.Cost: Free and open to the public. Info: or 691-6847

Friday, Feb. 1

UniverSoul Circus

When: Friday, Feb. 1 at 10:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 2 at noon, 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 3 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Where: Ted Wright Stadium at Savannah State University. Info: Tickets vary in price and are available at Ticketmaster outlets or online at

Poetic Visions: Focus on Black Female Artists

What: A selection of 12 pieces from the Walter O. Evans Collection. An opening reception will be held Feb. 5 from 5-6 p.m. When: Feb. 1-14. Hours are weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Where: SCAD Jen Library, 201 E. Broughton St. Info: 525-7191.

Painting Exhibition: Nathan Mauney

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Where: Dimensions Art Gallery, 412 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Youth Talent Explosion

When: Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. Where: SSU’s Tiger Arena. Info: 351-6320.

Saturday, Feb. 2

The Wanderer Walking Tour

What: The tour originates at the Owens-Thomas House and continues to the Ships of the Sea Museum and the Savannah Book Festival. When: Feb. 2 at 9 a.m. Cost: Free. Info: 691-6847, 351-6320 or

African American/Gullah-Geechee Rhythm and Movement Workshop

What: Percussionist/composer David Pleasant will lead this program. Bring an instrument and wear comfortable clothes for movement. When: Feb. 2 from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Cost: $15 donation. Info: 646-207-1843 or for site and other information.

Mavis Staples in Concert

What: This R&B artist played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement. When: Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. Where: Lucas Theatre. Cost: Free, but tickets required. Info: 525-5050 or

Sunday, Feb. 3

African-American Slave Narratives

What: Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African American Research at Harvard University, will speak about African-American literary expression during the slavery period as part of the Beach Institute Lecture Series. When: Feb. 3 at 3 p.m. Where: St. John Baptist Church, 522-528 Hartridge St. Cost: Free and open to the public. Info: 234-8000 or

Monday, Feb. 4

7th Annual New Beginnings Art Exhibition

What: Presented by the Savannah Chapter of the LINKS, Inc., this exhibition celebrates the talent of local high and middle-school students. When: Feb. 4-22. A reception and free dance performance will be Feb. 6 at 6 p.m. Where: Gallery S.P.A.C.E., 9 West Henry St. Cost: Free and open to the public. Info: 651-6783 or

Concert: The Future of Jazz

What: Spelman College Jazz Ensemble performs. When: Feb. 4. Where: Jewish Educational Alliance, 5111 Abercorn St. Cost: Free. Info: 691-6847 or

Tuesday, Feb. 5

Spoken Word Reunion

What: Open mic with Sister V. When: Feb. 5 at 6:30 p.m. Where: The Gallery Espresso, 234 Bull St.

Savannah Film Society presents Honeydripper

What: Filmmaker John Sayles and producer Maggie Renzi present a screening of their film, which stars Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, Lisa Gay Hamilton, and Yaya DeCosta. Sayles and Renzi will make a special appearance following the screening. When: Feb. 5 at 7:30 p.m. Where: Lucas Theatre. Cost: Free, no tickets necessary. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Info: 525-5050.

Wednesday, Feb. 6

Visions: An Odyssey in Black Dance

What: Abeni Cultural Arts will present a journey through history with African music and dance. When: Feb. 6 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. The doors will open at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Black Box at S.P.A.C.E., 9 W. Henry St. Cost: Free and open to the public.

Info: 651-6783, or

Tell Pharaoh

What: This concert drama by Loften Michell will be presented by the Savannah State University Players by the Sea. When: Feb. 6 at 8 p.m. Where: The Elmore Theater, King-Fraizer Student Center, Savannah State University.