Juneteenth 2021: A New Federal Holiday, and a Day of Theater and Music

Vice President Harris hugs Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) during the signing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law in the East Room of the White House on June 17. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

President Joe Biden signed into a law yesterday a bill establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, and the online celebrations during last year’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations have grown this year to in-person performances, including on Broadway. Here is a sample of what’s available on Saturday, June 19, 2021 going more or less chronologically throughout the day:

Ailey Juneteenth Celebration, highlights from Alvin Ailey’s dances Cry and Revelations, as well as Rennie Harris’ Lazarus, and a discussion of the holiday’s significant, on YouTube for free through June 22.

Broadway Celebrates Juneteenth, a free, in-person outdoor concert centered around Black joy and unity, as part of The Broadway League’s Black to Broadway initiative,  will take place in Times Square (Broadway between 43rd & 44th Streets) on Saturday, June 19, 2021 from noon – 1:30 PM (rain or shine). Performers include the casts from Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, Thoughts of a Colored Man, Diana the Musical, Girl from the North Country, The Lion King, Moulin Rouge!, and The Phantom of the Opera, as well as appearances by Lillias White and Ben Vereen

Puppet Playdate Juneteenth: Stories of Color, a virtual presentation of a puppet show offering folktales from the African diaspora from the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, 1 p.m.

Joe’s Pub presents A Juneteenth Celebration. The event features live performances by Celisse, Ché Buford and mal sounds, and the Juneteenth Legacy Project, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. free and open to the public at One Astor Place near the Cube.

“A Tribe Called Tubman,” a play written and directed by Idris Goodman and commissioned by TheaterworksUSA, stars Jada Suzanne Dixon as Harriet Tubman, telling the story of her life to a modern audience. 7 p.m. online

Live with Carnegie Hall: Juneteenth Celebration  Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes Jr. leads this celebration—along with Tamara Tunie,  Martin Luther King III and Annette Gordon-Reed at 7:30 p.m. online

Fred, a hip-hop musical about the life and times of Frederick Douglass. 8 p.m. online

Step Afrika Juneteenth Virtual Celebration
The dance and percussive troupe presents three new pieces: Trane, Little Rock Nine and The Movement, each of which “honors and embodies the determination, resilience, and reclamation of freedom.”  8 p.m., free on Step Afrika’s Youtube channel.

Unmasked, four virtual one-act plays by Black female playwrights, on Stellar at 10 p.m. for $19:

Jezelle the Gazelle by Dominique Morisseau
A clear-eyed coming of age story about a young girl who is ready to prove that she’s the best runner on her block: young, fierce, and definitely faster than any boy. But is she fast enough to outrun what life has in store and claim her greatness?

White-N-Luscious by Jocelyn Bioh
A Nigerian pop star and an Afro-British scholar are confronted with the controversy of self-representation and unattainable beauty standards all while on a sensationalist talk show.

G.O.A.T. by Ngozi Anyanwu
Spotlights friends Jay, Bonita, and Row, who have gathered to perform a sacred ritual to summon victory for the true Greatest Of All Time.

Madness by Stacey Osei-Kuffour
The protagonist, making a routine call to clean up a work issue, encounters a mysterious new colleague who offers her a unique brand of help.

Juneteenth, which commemorates June 19, 1865, when Gen. Gordon Granger entered Galveston, Texas, to lead the Union occupation force and delivered the news of the Emancipation Proclamation to enslaved people in the region. This holiday, which only became a nationwide celebration (among black Americans) in the 20th century, has grown in stature over the last decade as a result of key anniversaries (2011 to 2015 was the sesquicentennial of the Civil War), trends in public opinion (the growing racial liberalism of left-leaning whites), and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.”
— from Why Juneteenth Matters by Jamelle Bouie

Before it became a national holiday (for which federal workers have today off), forty-seven states and Washington, D.C. already treated it as a holiday or a special observance, and a growing number of corporations, including Nike, Twitter and Spotify, give its employees the day off.

A Juneteenth Timeline

Check ou: On Juneteenth

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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