About the Artists

Brian Blade, drummer

Brian Blade is a renowned American jazz drummer, composer, and bandleader born in Shreveport. In addition to leading the critically acclaimed Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band, he’s been a member of Wayne Shorter’s Quartet since 2000. Blade’s work has been nominated for multiple GRAMMY awards, including a recent win in 2015 for his work with the Chick Corea Trio (Chick Corea, Christian McBride, and Brian Blade) on the album Trilogy. As a session drummer, he’s worked with everyone from Herbie Hancock to Kenny Garrett and Emmylou Harris to Bob Dylan. In 2013, he won an ECHO Jazz Award for “International Artist of the Year Drums/Percussion.”

CORE Performance Company, dance ensemble

CORE Performance Company is a dance organization dual-based in Atlanta and Houston, led by co-founder and artistic director Sue Schroeder. This year marks 37 years of CORE’s dance-making through risk taking, innovation, community building, collaboration, mentoring, and investigation. Since 1980, CORE has performed 125 pieces of original choreography across the globe, collaborating with the renowned and the obscured. CORE’s work also leads them to share what they know about bodies and movement with isolated populations—those dealing with abuse, homelessness, language barriers, eating disorders, refugee status, substance abuse, aging, and HIV/AIDS. Commissioned by UCA’s College of Fine Arts and Communication in 2015, CORE debuted a new work in Arkansas, titled “Gaman” (a.k.a. “Life Interrupted”), a richly layered performance of contemporary dance, theatre, art and music recognizing the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II, which completed its international tour in March 2017.

Thulani Davis, librettist for the Little Rock Nine opera

Thulani Davis is the author of six books, texts for music, and several screenplays. Her music theater work includes libretti for Anthony Davis’ Amistad (Lyric Opera of Chicago, 1997); X: The Life & Times of Malcolm X (City Opera of New York, 1985), and Anne LeBaron’s The E. & O. Line (University of the District of Columbia, 1989). Other texts for music include Miya Masaoka’s Dark Passages (Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, 1998) and Bernadette Speach’s A Woman Unadorned (Lincoln Center, NY, 1994). Her plays include The Souls of Black Folk: An Oratorio (Nat’l. Black Arts Festival, 2003); Everybody’s Ruby (New York Shakespeare Festival, 1999); an adaptation of Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle (NYSF, 1990), and Where the Mississippi Meets the Amazon (NYSF, 1977). Davis has received a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award, a Pew National Theatre Artist Residency, and was a 1993 GRAMMY winner. A trained historian, Professor Davis is currently a professor in Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is, perhaps, uniquely qualified to write this libretto because in 1959 she was one of five African American students chosen to integrate schools in Hampton, VA. Having seen events unfold in Little Rock on television, her family allowed their daughter to choose to participate; however, the Hampton school board decided not to proceed based on the outcome in Little Rock. Professor Davis’s husband, coincidentally, is from Pine Bluff, making her already familiar with the state, its people, and its history of division.

Henry Louis Gates Jr., historian and consultant for the Little Rock Nine opera

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University, as well as director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Professor Gates is Editor-in-Chief of TheRoot.com, a daily online magazine focusing on issues of interest to the African American community and written from an African American perspective, and the Oxford African American Studies Center, the first comprehensive scholarly online resource in the field of African American and Africana Studies. He is the co-editor, with K. Anthony Appiah, of Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. He is the editor, along with Franklin W. Knight of Johns Hopkins University, of the six-volume Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin Biography. An influential cultural critic, Professor Gates has written a 1994 cover story for Time magazine on the new black Renaissance in art, as well as numerous articles and opinion pieces for The New Yorker, the New York Times, and The Root. Previously for PBS, Professor Gates produced and hosted Wonders of the African World (1999), America Beyond the Color Line (2004), African American Lives (2006), Oprah’s Roots (2007), African American Lives 2 (2008), Looking for Lincoln (2009), Faces of America (2010), Finding Your Roots (2012), and Africa’s Great Civilizations (2017).

Agnolia B. Gay, poet and spoken word artist

Agnolia B. Gay, a native of Little Rock, is founder and CEO of Helping Engage Arts, (aka HEARTS); co-founder and CEO of ACTS III; and founder and CEO of An Intimate Exposure to African American Artists, (aka AIETAAA).  She is an actress, educator, director and published poet. Gay has a B.F.A. in Dramatic Arts from Arkansas State University and a Masters in Educational Leadership from Strayer University. Agnolia worked for fifteen years at the National Historic Little Rock Central High School, where she coached the forensic squad and directed school plays. She currently teaches advanced Theater and Oral Communication at J. A. Fair High School in Little Rock. Gay uses “the ARTS,” which includes, but is not limited to, drama, music, movement, creative writing, visual arts and spoken word, as a vehicle to reach out, touch, motivate and inspire others.

Bill Huntington, bassist

Bill Huntington is a highly respected jazz bassist born in New Orleans. Beginning in the early 1950s, he learned to play the genre from several first-generation jazz musicians, including banjoist Lawrence Marrero and bassist Albert Glenny (who had played with Buddy Bolden). In 1960, DownBeat magazine featured him as “hot young guitar talent” from the Crescent City before he switched to double bass. Huntington’s recording and performing credits include working with everyone from Doc Cheatham and Ellis Marsalis to Bennie Wallace. He was a charter member of the Loyola University-New Orleans Jazz Department, where he mentored many now-renowned jazz musicians, including Victor Goines, Brian Blade, and John Herbert. He has lived in Little Rock since 2005.

Tania León, composer of the Little Rock Nine opera

Tania León is highly regarded as a composer and conductor and recognized for her accomplishment as an educator and advisor to arts organizations. She has been profiled on ABC, CBS, CNN, PBS, Univision, Telemondo, and in independent films. Leon’s opera Scourge of Hyacinths, based on a play by Wole Soyinka with staging and design by Robert Wilson, received twenty performances throughout Europe and Mexico. The aria “Oh Yamanja” (“Mother’s Prayer”) was recorded by Dawn Upshaw on her Nonesuch CD, The World So Wide. Commissions include works for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, New World Symphony, Koussevitzky Foundation, Fest der Kontinente (Hamburg, Germany), Cincinnati Symphony, National Endowment for the Arts, NDR Sinfonie Orchestra, American Composers Orchestra, The Library of Congress, Ensemble Modern, The Los Angeles Master Chorale, and The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, among others. Her honors include the New York Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Symphony Space’s Access to the Arts, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, and the Fromm [at the American Academy in Rome], Koussevitzky, and Guggenheim Fellowships. In 2013 she was the recipient of the prestigious 2013 ASCAP Victor Herbert Award.

Leron McAdoo, spoken word artist

Leron Charles McAdoo, aka Ron Mc, is a visual artist, musician, writer, and performer. In addition to being a lifelong community activist and educator since 1994, he is a member of Phi Beta Sigma Inc. and the co-founder of Backyard Enterprises in 1992. McAdoo has participated in numerous programs and events that deal with the issue of race relations and urban needs, some of which include the Healing Racism Institute, Too Cool for School, and the Kuumba Summer Art Academy. As a Hip Hop advocate and supporter, McAdoo uses the culture of Hip Hop as a vehicle to educate both young and old in the fields of music, writing, and art. This can be seen through his annual independently released albums, his many articles for various publications (The Writeous, Fusion, Little Rock Free Press, Arkansas Times, The Dirty Magazine, and The InkMag.com) his self-published projects, titled Hip Hop Unheard: Lyrics For The Listening Eye and The Hip Hoptimist. McAdoo is a founding member of the nationally-ranked spoken word troupe called Foreign Tongues. Additionally, his portraits, t-shirt designs, murals, comic books and commissioned artwork show his dedication to aesthetics. Ron Mc has been a radio DJ (for 88.3, 98.9, and Power 92.3), co-hosted Art & Literature In Motion TV Show, created and hosted The Mind Blazn’ TV Show, engineered for the radio documentary On The Line: Stories From Ninth Street, produced radio programs (such as The Writeous Hour, Hope From The Hill, and The Skinny), facilitated educational workshops, and volunteered with several organizations such as The Women’s Project.

 Stacey McAdoo

Stacey James McAdoo is a writer, poet, and an advocate of literacy. She has participated in several literacy/spoken word organizations such as the SanKofa Poets, Word Up! Poetry Troupe and Foreign Tongues. In addition, she has conducted various writing workshops and poetry readings at local schools, libraries, universities, and cultural enrichment programs. McAdoo has also helped to edit and/or publish works from writers of various genres and is the author of Sweet Melanin Messages and Baring My Soul. Stacey was the co-producer of the radio documentary, On the Line: Stories from Ninth Street, a former copy-editor for The Rock of Arkansas newspaper, and a co-host of the television show “Art & Literature in Motion.” She is currently a co-producer of The Writeous Hour (a youth oriented poetry radio show on West Central Community Radio station, 98.9 FM) and an arts integration workshop facilitator.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional and technical writing, a Master of Arts in Teaching and is a distinguished public school educator.

 Scott Meador, video artist:

Scott Meador’s credits include video projections for Metallica, Brad Paisley, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, and the New Century Saxophone Quartet among others. He is active in stage design and visualization for live events including international concert tours and university theatre productions. Meador created animation and visual effects for feature films including Blue Like Jazz and House of Numbers: An Anatomy of an Epidemic as well as multiple shorts including Europa. An associate professor in the Department of Film, Theatre, and Creative Writing at UCA, he teaches courses in visual-effects compositing, visual storytelling, production design, and 3D animation. As a teaching artist, he has conducted visual effects workshops for teens at the THEA Foundation, the Spring Creek Arts Festival (Springdale), the Offshoot Film Festival (Fayetteville), and the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival.

Crystal C. Mercer, performance artist and activist

Crystal C. Mercer is a native of Little Rock, AR. She is a performance artist, activist, and the sole proprietor of Columbus Creative Arts + Activism and SAFI FABric MARKET. Mercer’s past credits include a number of plays and musicals in Arkansas, Off-Broadway in New York, and internationally in Canterbury, England. She fuses arts and activism by using theatre and textiles to tell social justice narratives, through merchandising and storytelling, with an emphasis of uplifting voices of color. A dedicated public servant, a woman of many creative talents, and the daughter of legendary civil rights lawyer, the late Attorney Christopher C. Mercer, Jr., she honors the legacy of her father by using theatre arts as a tool for empowerment, education, and social justice.

 Marcus Montgomery, spoken word artist

Marcus Montgomery, owner of Next Move Consulting, provides creative approaches for engaging and educating youth, specifically at-risk youth and minority males to help them find their voice in education, life, and in the workforce.  He has designed curriculum and served as an instructor for the First Year Experience Course at The University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College.   He also served as a success coach for the “Network for Student Success,” an initiative at UAPTC designed to improve the retention and graduation rates of marginalized high school and college students.   A graduate of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Montgomery most recently completed a successful “Finding Your Voice” creative writing workshop and poetry Café with students at Horace Mann Middle School. He is also the author of two books: Portholes: Windows Into My Soul, which uses poetry to motivate students to read, write, think critically and achieve goals, and his most recent book Seven Unwritten Rules of Success, which offers practical success strategies.

Chris Parker, pianist

Chris Parker is a native Little Rock jazz pianist and composer. He holds a master’s degree in jazz performance from the University of Memphis. He has played and recorded with a range of artists that includes John Stubblefield, Rodney Jordon, Herlin Riley, Benny Powell, Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, and Kidd Jordan. Touring has taken him throughout the United States and Europe. Parker composed the new 39-minute No Tears Suite and will serve as music director for the professional ensemble.

Blake Tyson, composer and percussionist

Blake Tyson is professor of percussion in the Department of Music at the University of Central Arkansas.  An accomplished composer, he writes beautiful, emotionally powerful music that is immediately accessible, yet possesses compositional depth. His works are performed around the world by professional artists as well as students of all levels. A skilled marimba player, his own performances have taken him to five continents and more than thirty states. He holds a doctorate from the Eastman School of Music, a master’s from Kent State University, and a bachelor’s in music from the University of Alabama. As an educator, Tyson has the ability to relate to students of all ability levels in workshop settings.

The Writeous Poetry Club:

The Writeous is a group of creatives who express themselves through the arts. As a youth poetry club, they produce content to be presented and provide venues for others to share their gifts. They perform at school programs, community functions, and public occasions on the local, state, and national level. These teens broadcast a weekly show called The Writeous Hour on the West Central Community Radio Station, 98.9 FM. They consist of statewide award winning youth poets.


This event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Dr. Gayle Seymour at gayles@uca.edu or call 501-450-3295.