A New Season: Did You Know?

From the Top

From the Top is America’s largest national platform celebrating the stories, talents, and character of young classically-trained musicians.

The 2019-2020 Season of Great Performances at Mason includes five new Great Performances artists that are appearing for the first time. Three of the five were covered in the April issue of Friends Front and Center and the other two are covered in this issue. BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! Three Family Series events are also new to the Center and are described below.


Celebrating the Holydays

Sweet Honey in the Rock® is an all-woman, African American a cappella ensemble. They are an American three-time Grammy Award-nominated troupe who express their history as African American women through song, dance, and sign language. Originally a four-person ensemble, the group has expanded to five-part harmonies, with a sixth member acting as a sign-language interpreter. Although the members have changed over four decades, the group continues to sing and perform worldwide.

DID YOU KNOW . . . Sweet Honey in the Rock® was founded in 1973 by Bernice Johnson Reagon, who was teaching a vocal workshop with the Washington, D.C., Black Repertory Company? Reagon retired from the group in 2004. The ensemble's most powerful messages are proclaimed through an enormous catalog of songs addressing the world's woes.  The ensemble members compose much of their own music.

DID YOU KNOW . . . Over the decades, more than 20 individuals have lent their voices to Sweet Honey? Embarking on a new chapter in their musical journey, Sweet Honey now includes four core vocalists—Louise Robinson, Carol Maillard (both founding members), Nitanju Bolade Casel, and Aisha Kahlil. Shirley Childress, an American Sign Language Interpreter, has been performing live with the group since 1981.

DID YOU KNOW . . . Sweet Honey has received several Grammy Award nominations, including one for their children's album, Still the Same Me, which received the Silver Award from the National Association of Parenting Publications? They won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album for their version of Lead Belly's Grey Goose from the compilation album Folkways: A Vision Shared. Their vocals appeared in a number of animated counting cartoons on the long-running PBS series Sesame Street, and the group was the subject of the 2005 documentary Sweet Honey in the Rock®: Raise Your Voice.

DID YOU KNOW . . . The name of the group was derived from a song, based on Psalm 81:16, which tells of a land so rich that when rocks were cracked open, honey flowed from them? Johnson once said that this first song in which the four women blended their voices, was so powerful that there was no question what the name of the group should be (Psalm 81:16, He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat; and with honey out of the rock should he have satisfied thee).


From the Top is America’s largest national platform celebrating the stories, talents, and character of young classically-trained musicians. Through live events, NPR and video broadcasts, scholarships, and arts education programs, From the Top empowers these extraordinary young people to engage and inspire music lovers of all ages.

DID YOU KNOW . . .  From the Top had its beginning in 1995 when Jennifer Hurley-Wales and Gerald Slavet conceived of an old-time radio program featuring young musicians to be taped at the newly-restored New England Conservatory’s (NEC) Jordan Hall?

DID YOU KNOW . . . In 1997 the first Young Performance pilot was taped at the NEC’s Jordan Hall in Boston with concert pianist Christopher O’Riley as host? The second Young Performance pilot played for a focus group at the Public Radio Program Directors (PRPD) National Conference. The new program title From the Top was introduced at the PRPD National Conference in 1998. Cole Porter’s You’re the Top was first performed as the program theme by Christopher O’Riley in 1999. Weekly radio broadcasts of From the Top launched on 100 stations in 2000.

DID YOU KNOW . . . In 2016 From the Top launched See the Music, a weekly online video series? A collaboration with the classical trio “Time for Three” resulted in more than 4 million video views.

DID YOU KNOW . . . From the Top is an independent non-profit organization? Though the radio show is distributed by NPR, it is not a public radio organization, and receives less than 8% of its revenues from radio carriage fees. Thanks to generous individual, corporate, and foundation support, media and education programs are offered to musicians and the general public at no charge.

DID YOU KNOW . . In 2005 From the Top partnered with the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation? Football fans should recognize that name. This partnership enabled 25 deserving young musicians to receive a Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award of $10,000 in support of furthering their musical education.


From the makers of the critically acclaimed The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show comes a brand new Christmas-themed show featuring four popular Eric Carle stories, which will include Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See?; 10 Little Rubber Ducks; Dream Snow; and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Dream Snow, a magical Christmas story told in the author/illustrator’s unique and beautiful style, will include creator Jonathan Rockefeller’s menagerie of over 75 incredible puppets. It's December 24 and the old farmer settles down for a winter's nap, wondering how Christmas can come when there is no snow! In his dream he imagines a snowstorm covering him and his animals—named One, Two, Three, Four, and Five—in a snowy blanket.

DID YOU KNOW . . . Eric Carle is an American designer, illustrator, and writer of children's books? He is most noted for The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a picture book that has been translated into more than 65 languages and sold more than 46 million copies, which is equivalent to 1.8 copies sold every minute since it was published in 1969. Since then he has illustrated more than 70 books, most of which he also wrote.  More than 145 million copies of his books have been sold around the world. In 2003, the American Library Association awarded Eric Carle the biennial Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal (now called the Children's Literature Legacy Award), a prize for writers or illustrators of children's books published in the U.S. who have made lasting contributions to the field.

DID YOU KNOW . . . Eric Carle was born in 1929 to Johanna and Erich Carle in Syracuse, New York? When he was six years old, his mother, homesick for Germany, led the family back to Stuttgart. He was educated there and graduated from the local art school, the State Academy of Fine Arts, in Stuttgart. Eric was sent to the small town of Schwenningen to escape the WWII bombings of Stuttgart. When he was 15 the German government conscripted him and other boys of that age to dig trenches on the Siegfried line.

DID YOU KNOW . . . Eric was always homesick for America and dreamed of returning home one day? He eventually returned and moved to New York City in 1952. There he landed a job as graphic designer in the promotion department of The New York Times. Educator and author Bill Martin, Jr. first noticed the illustration of a red lobster Carle had created for an advertisement and asked him to collaborate on a picture book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?. It was published by Henry Holt & Co. in 1967 and became a best-seller. Thus began Carle's true career; soon he was writing and illustrating his own stories. His first books as both author and illustrator were 1, 2, 3 to the Zoo and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

DID YOU KNOW . . . Eric Carle's art is distinctive and instantly recognizable? His artwork is created in a collage technique, using hand-painted papers, which he cuts and layers to form bright and colorful images. Many of his books have an added dimension—die-cut pages, twinkling lights (as in The Very Lonely Firefly), and even the lifelike sound of a cricket's song as in The Very Quiet Cricket.

HOT PEAS ‘N BUTTER (a Family Series event)

Hot Peas ‘n Butter is a nationally touring, family-music band known for their multi-cultural music. They’ve been featured on Nick Jr. and Jack’s Big Music Show TV, as well as having partnered with, and written songs for, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. They have won multiple Parents’ Choice Awards, enjoyed national radio play, and brought many thousands of fans to their feet at venues of all kinds. Their unique brand of engaging music incorporates tasty beats and catchy melodies, designed to delight, entertain, and educate young audiences.

DID YOU KNOW . . . Hot Peas ‘n Butter leader, Danny Lapidus, has a recording studio in Manhattan called “Pod Noise”? At the age of nine he began playing the clarinet and added the saxophone at age twelve. He attended Music and Art High School in NYC where he met Francisco Cotto, a current band member. Years later when they were thinking about forming a band together to perform for kids and families, Francisco mentioned a playground game he played as a kid called Hot Peas ‘N Butter. Lapidus said, “That’s what the band should be called!” Hot Peas ‘N Butter was born.

DID YOU KNOW . . . Hot Peas ‘N Butter has an album entitled Back to the Land!? That is also the name of the title track which celebrates caring for the Earth and features special guests such as Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul & Mary). Other songs include a bluegrass song titled Little Fox, which is a story about a hungry fox being chased by a hound, Big World Kid, Rainbow in Your Eyes, in which they sing about every color in the rainbow, and a song called Come into my Kitchen, in which they literally bang on pots, pans, glasses, bottles, and any other kitchenware they could find.

DID YOU KNOW . . . At a Hot Peas ‘N Butter concert, the audience is part of the show? Kids will dance and sing along, as well as follow motions and even play hand games. They can also expect to learn about multi-cultural rhythms and hear many different languages.  All of the audience should be prepared to laugh a lot.

THE MAGIC OF BILL BLAGG LIVE! (a Family Series event)

To say that Bill Blagg has had a magical life would be no exaggeration. Today, Bill is one of the nation's top touring illusionists. His theatrical brand of magic thrills thousands of people every single year. Bill's live performances leave people in complete disbelief as he creates the impossible in a way only he can do. Bill prides himself in performing new, never-before-seen illusions, such as the world's only rideable hoverboard. He is also known for instantly teleporting across theaters, squishing his body from 6 feet to 6 inches tall, passing through the blades of an industrial fan, and much more!

DID YOU KNOW . . . Bill credits his grandfather and father with getting him started in magic? His grandfather gave him magic books when he was a child, including one that explains how to plan the details of a show, how to dress, and aspects of showmanship beyond what most people would think. His father (a would-be performer who worked in fabricating), also encouraged his interest in magic. “He wanted to be a ventriloquist,” Bill says. “He studied some, but he didn’t really know how to go down that road, plus he had stage fright. It was a secret passion that he never pursued, so when he saw I had an interest in magic, he wanted to help.” Blagg’s father even used his fabricating skills to help create some of his early illusions, and to this day, he still fabricates many of Bill’s props.

DID YOU KNOW . . . Some of Bill’s earliest shows were performed while he was in school? “During recess, I put on a magic show every month,” he said, noting he made sure to always have a new show. “I entered the school talent show with my fifth-grade teacher who dabbled in magic,” Blagg said. “It was one of those small, little pieces that led to me putting on a small show. Then I did birthday parties—and putting on shows any time I got the opportunity to perform. It’s the way to become a magician, to start learning and performing it and eventually you find your voice.” Blagg, who has appeared on network television, said he used to do more traditional tricks, like cutting a beautiful female assistant in half, but he soon wanted to differentiate himself from the pack. “You’re constantly reinventing yourself until you’re where you want to go,” he said.