Friday’s announcement of the 2019 African American festival’s headliners takes place as the mayor’s office, one of its principal organizers, undergoes massive change. Bernard C. “Jack” Young is barely a week into the mayorship that Catherine Pugh vacated after the growing scandal around the “Healthy Holly” books pushed her out of office. This transition caps off a year of conflict over the AFRAM’s finances, duration, attendance woes and relocation to Druid Hill Park in 2017.
Tonya Miller-Hall, the mayor’s office’s senior director of public affairs, said the scandal surrounding former Mayor Pugh should not threaten this year’s festival, which takes place August 10 and 11.
“The festival is a huge deal to the city, it’s 20-plus years old and probably one of the largest African-American festivals on the East Coast,” she said. “The city expects a fantastic experience. It’s a family-oriented, multi-generational festival. It was a huge priority for Mayor Pugh, and is an equally huge priority for Mayor Young.”
Miller-Hall added that this festival, which involves the city’s Department of Recreation & Parks and Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts, counters the negative attention often surrounding this predominantly Black city.
“Baltimore gets so much bad press,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for people to see Baltimore in a different way, and showcasing our parks and city is really vital, especially at this time. It’s going to be very important this year that the city does the festival well and tries to do it even bigger and better than last year, because the community really needs something to feel good about.”
This year’s star-studded performers include the following A-listers and emerging talents:
The Miami-bred artist survived seizures, legal issues, rap beefs, defamation claims by drug dealer “Freeway” Rick Ross, being outed as an ex-corrections officer and more on his way to rap superstardom. Now, the Maybach Music Group founder makes his way to Baltimore to hopefully tease the reported follow-up to his 2006 debut, “Port of Miami,” during his headlining set Saturday.
From nabbing first place on “Showtime at the Apollo” as a ten-year-old to childhood tours in the girl groups TG4 and RichGirl, this Florida native has spent much of her life in the world of R&B. The singer, who’s penned singles for Ariana Grande and Maryland’s own Tamar Braxton, stepped further out on her own with her 2017 debut album, “Girl Disrupted.” Based on what she’s released from that album and beyond, including last year’s “Yernin,” Streeter’s cool and confident songwriting and vocals will surely find a home at Druid Hill.
Teddy Riley and friends
If Saturday’s acts play more towards millennial Baltimore residents and younger, then Sunday’s roster caters more to the “40-plus age group,” Miller-Hall said. Few surviving R&B stars mean as much to that generation of fans as Teddy Riley. The pioneer of New Jack Swing, which fused hip hop and dance instrumentation with R&B vocals, wrote definitive hits for contemporaries like Bobby Brown, Michael Jackson and Mary J. Blige. More recently, he’s toured the country and performed revue-style shows with some of his most famous friends and collaborators. He celebrates in full force at AFRAM, with two of his most famous groups in tow: Guy, the late-’80s/early-’90s vocal trio with songwriting partner Aaron Hall and his brother, Damian Hall; and Wreckx-N-Effect, who dominated the 90s with the Riley-produced “Rump Shaker.”
These hometown heroes, who performed at AFRAM last year, return to the park with which they almost share a name (to the extent that Miller-Hall accidentally said “Dru Hill Park” at least once) for another set of sultry slow jams and heart-on-sleeve vocal magic.
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“I said to mayor Pugh last year, when the festival was over, that Dru Hill should always be invited to do [AFRAM],” she said. Listen to the 90s classic, “In My Bed,” and try to prove otherwise.
Festivals like AFRAM also give artists from other parts of the African diaspora the opportunity to spread their message to an even bigger audience. Miller-Hall said that this year’s festival will feature several such acts, with many yet to be confirmed, including Afro-Cuban artist Cimafunk.
“We did a survey after AFRAM last year to see what more people wanted to see, and one thing that bubbled out of that was [incorporating] the African diaspora,” Miller-Hall said. Her research led her to the South by Southwest festival, where NPR highlighted Cimafunk, with his irresistible blend of funk and traditional Afro-Cuban and Caribbean music styles, as an act to follow. Here’s a taste of what to expect.
In addition to these and other to-be-announced musicians, AFRAM will feature several local food vendors and other merchants.