Singer-songwriter Grace Givertz quipped on Friday night that she was keeping tally of how many times she cried over the course of the day; at the point of the Black Opry Residency showcase at World Cafe Live that she said this, just before playing her moving song “Father’s Daughter,” the count was four, and by the song’s conclusion, it was up to five.
It was a moment of warm humor, but also of genuine vulnerability. The showcase was full of emotional moments from all five Black Opry residents — which also included Denitia, The Kentucky Gentlemen, Samantha Rise, and Tylar Bryant — that dove into candid, raw, personal truths, rendered in beautiful and moving moments of country and singer-songwriter melody; the loud cheers and lively engagement from the audience provided support and affirmation in response.
The Black Opry Residency was the first program of its kind from WXPN, in partnership with the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage. It selected five Black artists working in the country, roots, and Americana genres and brought them together in Philadelphia, set them up in a house in University City, and provided them with a week’s worth of creative and professional workshops, cultural outings — a trip to the Reading Terminal Market, and to The Met Philly to see Jill Scott — and spotlights on WXPN, like each resident’s interview with Kristen Kurtis and acoustic performance on the XPN Morning Show. The week culminated in the World Cafe Live showcase performance before a sold-out crowd.
Setting up the night with introductory remarks, Black Opry founder Holly G spoke about the impact of the residency program, noting that Black musicians are often marginalized in the country music industry — a genre that they’re historically foundational in — and getting artists in spaces like this and raising their profile is essential to the genre’s future. Each artist played three of their songs in the round; Nashville icon and singer-songwriter Frankie Staton, one of the Black Opry mentors for the week, joined in on the performance, playing two of her songs and joining the ensemble for an encore cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
Over on Instagram, Givertz spoke excitedly of the Black Opry residency in its afterglow: “My heart has grown 4 sizes after spending an incredible week with my Black Opry and WXPN family in Philly. This residency changed my life and I cannot wait to utilize all the tools and resources I was gifted. If you know me, you know I’m seldom rendered speechless but here I am. Thankful. Cup full. Love u”
The week might be over, but you’ll be seeing and hearing more from the Black Opry Residency a lot this spring; be on the lookout for a limited series podcast documenting the Black Opry residence and getting to know each of the artists, care of Rowhome Productions, and stay tuned for audio and video from the showcase concert at World Cafe Live.
Below, check out photos from the Black Opry Residency finale, shot by Philly photographer Senia Lopez; you can explore more of her work at her website.
Holly G of Black Opry | photo by Senia Lopez for WXPN
Denitia at the Black Opry showcase | photo by Senia Lopez for WXPN
The Kentucky Gentlemen at the Black Opry showcase | photo by Senia Lopez for WXPN
Grace Givertz at the Black Opry showcase | photo by Senia Lopez for WXPN
Samantha Rise at the Black Opry showcase | photo by Senia Lopez for WXPN
Tylar Bryant at the Black Opry showcase | photo by Senia Lopez for WXPN