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Baltimore Backstage: Harpist Brandee Younger plays the BMA, Sondheim finalists’ exhibit opens, Rye Rye’s song rises in Nike ad

This week in Baltimore Backstage we catch up with a Grammy-nominated harpist who has spent a longtime taking her instrument out of its traditional concert setting and now she’s bringing it to the courtyard of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Speaking of museums, the Walters will open an exhibit featuring the three Sondheim Art Prize finalists, who will learn later this month if they win the big prize.

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And while she‘s still waiting to receive credits on Drake’s record, Baltimore club queen Rye Rye’s song “Shake it to the Ground” was featured in a Nike commercial that screams “girl power.”

Harpist bringing ‘nice beat’ to Baltimore Museum of Art

While it seems Grammy-nominated harpist Brandee Younger has come a long way from hauling her harp to producers’ “mama’s basements,” she is sticking to her longtime goal of introducing the classical instrument “outside of its traditional setting.”

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“You want to make sure that everyone has access to this instrument,” Younger said, as she prepared for her upcoming performance at Baltimore Museum of Art Sculpture Garden on July 24.

The New York native is no stranger to Charm City.

“I love Baltimore. My sister was born in Baltimore. I’ve got so much family there,” she said.

Younger started the harp as a flute-playing adolescent collaborating with a family friend, who saw the instrument as a route to a college scholarship. Since then she’s worked with Ms. Lauryn Hill, Drake and Cassie, and has been nominated for a Grammy for her song, “Beautiful is Black.” She was the only African-American woman nominated in the category for best instrumental composition in 2021.

Even with such a resume, Younger is still surprised when people support her harpistry.

“You chose to come to a harp recital … and I don’t take that for granted one bit,” she said, explaining how she plans to charm Baltimore with her sound.

“I might rope you in with a nice beat, then segue into something more traditional. So what I hope is that the audience is both classical music and nonclassical music, and will take something away and hold onto it,” she said.

Younger was very intentional in curating her Baltimore Museum of Art performance, which she said features “a special group.”

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“Whenever I hear the word ‘museum,’ I tend to shy away from drums, so we’ll have a bass, Liany Mateo [playing] … and Anne Drummond will be playing flute,” she said.

Audiences can check out Younger on July 24 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Baltimore Museum of Art sculpture garden. Visitors can choose to simply take in the sounds or enjoy a bit of brunch while jamming.

Tickets are $50 for the concert and $135 for the event plus brunch for nonmembers and BMA members will pay $35 for the concert and $100 to add the dining experience. For brunch reservations call Gertrude’s at 410-889-3399.

Sondheim finalists showcase their work at the Walters

As they gear up for their exhibition opening July 21 at the Walters Art Museum, three Baltimore-based artists are waiting to learn if they’ll be $30,000 richer and preparing for life-changing opportunities.

Painter James Williams II, textile artist Megan Koeppel and video and charcoal artist Maren Henson are finalists for the Janet and Walter Sondheim Art Prize.

Launched in 2006 as a way to celebrate Artscape, the Sondheim competition now offers a monetary prize, a yearlong studio at Bromo Seltzer Arts Cellar and a residency at Civitella Ranieri, an American arts community near Umbria, Italy. The winner will be announced July 28 at the Walters, where jurors and attendees alike will be evaluating exhibits by the finalists.

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“It’s a chance for the artist to make their case,” said Lou Joseph, who manages prizes and competitions for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and The Arts (BOPA). “Who’s about to make a leap in their work that [the jurors] are really excited about and want to help support?”

The three Baltimore artists have already come a long way. Williams, Koeppel and Henson were selected out of, initially, about 300 artists from Maryland, D.C., Delaware and Northern Virginia. Thirteen artists were selected as semifinalists and submitted up to 30 works each. From the group, Williams, Koeppel and Henson were selected as finalists.

“The finalists and the semifinalists show an exciting range of art. It shows how much high quality art and how many high quality artists we have in the city of Baltimore and in the region,” Joseph said.

He asked this year’s jurors, artists Kambaui Olujimi and Jean Shin and Brooklyn Museum curator Catherine Morris, to “pick who they think would be the most interesting show to see. ‘Who would you want to see more of?’”

The semifinalists will receive $500 and showcase their work at School 33 from Sept. 1 to Oct. 30. The finalists who don’t garner the big prize will still pocket $2500 and be featured at the Walters Art Museum until Sept. 18.

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Joseph said he hopes the competition brings attention to artists beyond the Sondheim participants.

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“It is a tiny slice of what’s out there. I would hope it would inspire people to go out to the artists-run spaces and galleries all over the city.”

Club queen Rye Rye’s hit song shakes up Nike commercial

You may remember Baltimore club queen Rye Rye was completely caught off guard a few weeks ago when she heard a snippet of her 2007 banger “Shake it to the Ground,” in Drake’s newly released song, “Currents.” While Rye Rye (officially Ryeisha Berrain) and the song’s producer Blaqstarr still wait for their official credit, Nike clapped back with a girl-power packed commercial.

The Drake album, “Honestly, Nevermind,” was a surprise drop for the world, but Rye Rye got an even bigger shock when she heard her own voice on the multiplatinum artist’s record. She was hurt by the fact that neither she nor her team received a heads up or had conversations about sampling, fair usage or compensation, she told The Sun in an interview last month.

As the messy saga of getting credit continues, Rye Rye got a lift when Nike released a commercial featuring her song and celebrating “women in football,” or soccer as it’s commonly called here in the U.S. of A.

Rye Rye’s fans were immediately ecstatic at the Nike commercial, which the brand tweeted on July 6.

“Love that everyone is loving the Nike commercial with [’Shake it the Ground’] … so many people [were] tagging me on Instagram,” she tweeted.


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