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'SONGS OF MY PEOPLE' Corcoran exhibit focuses on ties, achievements of African-Americans


Washington --In 1990, a talented trio organized a nationwide endeavor to create a photographic portrait of this country's African-American community.

The result, "Songs of My People," premiered Saturday at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

The show of 150 photographs from more than 50 photographers provides a penetrating and often touching self-portrait of black America's triumphs, hopes and struggles.

Dudley M. Brooks, one of the organizers, characterized the exhibit as a "family album."

D. Michael Cheers, another organizer, says the project "is about vision. It is designed to provide an expanded view of the African-American experience."

Along with writer-producer Eric Easter and corporate support from Time Warner Inc., the photographers formed New African Visions and organized the cross-country photographic sweep in the summer and fall of 1990.

The title is borrowed from a 1925 essay by the late singer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson.

From the 3,000 prints produced, the editors of "Songs" focused on common ties and achievements of African-Americans. One series depicts the success and trials of African-American families and the binding force from which strength of character evolves.

A mixture of joy, love and comfort pervades Keith Hadley's photograph "Saturday Morning chores." The "Family of Mickey Leland," a touching and warm portrait by Geary Broadnax, captures the wake of a family tragedy.

The problem of homelessness is chronicled by Cheers in a series of works about one homeless family in Washington trying to survive under the thumb of poverty's heavy hand.

While the accomplishments of black athletes are depicted, the exhibit provides a wide ranging display of the achievements and crafts of African-American professionals both in and out of the spot light.

Walker Robinson, chief of neurosurgery and pediatrics at the University of Maryland-Baltimore, is photographed by Mr. Brooks he performs delicate surgery. Bruce Talamon captures artist Jacob Lawrence at work in his studio. Marines grunt out the summer heat at Parris Island, S.C., in photographs by Miami Herald photographer Jeffrey Allen Salter.

Black musicians are photographed practicing everything from classical to rap.

And whether it is exuberant Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly captured by Sharon Farmer, a ballerina floating before the Houston skyline or women doctors standing ready, the message is clear: Black women have a great impact today.

Geary Broadnax explores the flip side of success with a sobering look at incarceration, where recent statistics showed that one in four African-American males was in prison or under court supervision.

Religious traditions run deep in black communities, as shown in the work of Bob Black, who photographed images of the Catholic Church, while former heavyweight champion Muhammed Ali is seen with his family during Islamic Friday prayers.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of "Songs" is its universal thread of life.

Nowhere does this ring clearer than in the images of the young, such as David Lee's image of a boy receiving a haircut and C.W. Griffin's child flying off a swing.

"Songs of My People" will be on display at the Corcoran until May 3. It then goes on a national tour under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. Among the cities on the tour are Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York and Tampa in 1992, Cincinnati, Memphis, Detroit and Chicago in 1993 and Kansas City, Houston and Indianapolis in 1994. The Corcoran Gallery is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and until 9 p.m. on Thursdays. For further information, call (202) 638-3211.

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