The B.E.A.T.S. (Black Experience in America Through Song) a cappella show at the Black History Month Invitational on Saturday was no ordinary a cappella show. With its combination of extraordinary talent and moving social and political commentary, it was the kind of show that gives you chills for two hours straight.
Displayed on the chalkboard at the front of the Cushing 001 auditorium were 21 names of black people, mostly young, who were wrongly murdered by police officers. “These are the people we’re singing for,” said B.E.A.T.S. co-president Nikitaa Newton, LSOE ’19, as she pointed to the names. Newton also spoke to the controversy surrounding a recent discriminatory comment made online by a former B.E.A.T.S. member, saying, “We are disappointed and appalled by the statements … we are here to show through our music that black lives truly matter.”
B.E.A.T.S. describes themselves musically as an a cappella group that blends traditional soul music and contemporary R&B. They formed in 2009, and they focus on music that has had a strong impact on the black community in the United States.
They opened the show with a chilling performance of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” sometimes referred to as the Black National Anthem, before diving into beautifully-arranged renditions of “Blessings” by Chance the Rapper and “Glory” by John Legend and Common. Since “Glory” was written for the movie Selma (2014), the song was introduced by a reference to the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery led by leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Fighting for equality isn’t just one step…it’s an ongoing fight.”
Next came performances by special guests the Harvard Lowkeys and Paul Sherban MCAS ’16, as well as a song from BC’s Voices of Imani. The show also included heartfelt poetry from Zach Patterson, LSOE ’19, and Miya Coleman, MCAS ’19.
B.E.A.T.S. returned to the stage to close out the show with two more songs, the final one being “Blue Lights” by Jorja Smith. Soloist Nthabi Kamala CSOM ’20 delivered a powerful and emotional vocal performance, but she first gave a brief but compelling introduction for the song. “The constant fear of being wrongfully profiled and prosecuted is ingrained in the schematic of the black community,” she said. “Music is a powerful medium of communication, and I hope tonight our message has reached you.”