Smithsonian Afrofuturism Series

Sonic Futures

The Music of Afrofuturism


Kennedy Center's REACH

Free, Reservations Recommended

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This event brings together three musical giants who have made monumental contributions to Afrofuturism as we know it today. George Clinton, Nona Hendryx, and Vernon Reid will be joined on stage by world-renowned scholar and critic Alondra Nelson for an hour-long exploration of Afrofuturism – where it came from, where it is going, and what it has to offer us. The program will take place at the REACH at the Kennedy Center and opening remarks will be delivered by Dr. Gus Casely-Hayford, Director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art. The discussion will be followed by a sonic exploration of Afrofuturism in the Skylight Pavilion, featuring DJs Adrian Loving and John Murph. Their bios and links to music samples can be found below.



Nona Hendryx

In the spirit of two-fisted political singer songwriters such as Nina Simone, and Joni Mitchell, Nona Hendryx tackles social issues, love and politics with a smoky vocal tessitura somewhere between funk and the end of the stratosphere. Hendryx’s legendary career spans decades of sound and style evolution. Fans know her as a founding member of the group who morphed from Patti Labelle and The Bluebells, into the Rock & Funk Glam Diva's 'Labelle' with the #1 record, Lady Marmalade.  Nona Hendryx emerged as the chief songwriter of the group’s socially conscious and illuminating message songs. With the end of Labelle, Nona Hendryx fans welcomed the revolutionary art-rock, new-wave goddess Nona as she embarked upon her own impressive Solo career, which spanned eight studio albums and engaged her with an impressive lineup of collaborators (Prince, George Clinton and P-Funk, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, Bono and Cameo), resulting in top ten hits and a Grammy nomination (Rock This Houses with The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards on guitar) and a GRAMMY winner for Terri Lyne Carrington’s ‘Mosaic Project’. Nona is passionate about Afrofuturism and Speculative Fiction and feels, “Afrofuturism, looking back to move forward is not only fiction, it is not only science, it is a future created in the mind, projected and seen through the lens of the African diaspora, it is part Science Fiction and Fact”.  Nona Hendryx is the guest Artistic Director for the Harlem Stage year long series The Cosmic Synthesis of Sun Ra Afrofuturism Series.

George Clinton

George Clinton is one of the foremost innovators of funk music and was the mastermind behind the bands Parliament and Funkadelic. Clinton has become recognized as the godfather of modern urban music. Beats, loops, and samples of P-Funk have appeared on albums by OutKast, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliot, De La Soul, Fishbone, and many others. As Clinton has said, "funk is the DNA of hip-hop and rap." In 1997, Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Guitar Center's Hollywood Rock Walk, and earned a Lifetime Achievement Award at the NAACP Image Awards. In 2002, Spin voted Parliament-Funkadelic No. 6 of the 50 Greatest Bands of All Time. Over the past decade, Clinton has continued to play sold-out shows across the globe, while a countless number of his songs have been licensed for film and television. Currently, he is compiling new and old songs for an exclusive online-only release, fighting for artist rights through the P-Funk Initiative, and blogging about these issues on his website, Clinton also continues to support the youth through the Mother's Hip Education Foundation, and through donations to the Barack Obama Green Charter High School in Plainfield, New Jersey.

Vernon Reid

London-born American guitarist, founder of Living Colour and a co-founder of the Black Rock Coalition, Vernon Reid has done a great deal to undermine stereotypical expectations of what kinds of music black artists ought to play; his rampant eclecticism encompasses everything from hard rock and punk to funk, R&B and avant-garde jazz, and his anarchic, lightning-fast solos have become a hallmark. In 1980, he joined Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society, and over the course of the decade, Reid went on to work with a wide variety of experimental musicians including Defunkt, Bill Frisell, John Zorn, Arto Lindsay, and Public Enemy. He has continued with extended collaborations as a producer and performer with James “Blood” Ulmer’s Memphis Blood, with DJ Logic in Yohimbe Brothers, the collaborative Burnt Sugar Arkestra, and the Tony Williams Tribute band “Spectrum Road” with Jack Bruce, John Medeskiand Cindy Blackman-Santana. His latest project “The Zig Zag Power Trio” features Will Calhoun and Melvin Gibbs. Vernon has also composed for noted film-makers Charles Stone 3rd, Shola Lynch, Gabri Christa, Brad Lichtenstein, Kasi Lemmons, Laurence Fishburn, & Thomas Allan Harris.


Dr. Alondra Nelson

Alondra Nelson, President of the Social Science Research Council and Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, is an acclaimed researcher and author, who explores questions of science, technology, and social inequality. Her books include Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination, The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome and Technicolor: Race, Technology and Everyday Life. In 2002, Nelson edited “Afrofuturism,” an influential special issue of the journal Social Text, drawing together contributions from scholars and artists, who were members of a synonymous online community she established in 1998.



Adrian Loving

Adrian Loving is a noted contemporary art and music historian, visual artists and DJ/entrepreneur. Over the course of his 20-year career, Loving has curated art exhibitions and public programming at various museums and cultural institutions, including the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery of Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, amongst many others. His work as a DJ/entrepreneur has also lead him to perform at renowned events and cultural spaces throughout Washington, DC and abroad, including: The White House Correspondent’s Dinner and the Library of Congress to name a few. Each experience synthesizes his love and passion for music in unique ways to create sonic experiences on the dancefloor and in art spaces. Listen to a sample of his music.

John Murph

John Murph is an acclaimed music and arts journalist. His writing has been published regularly by TIDAL, JazzTimes, Down Beat, NPR Music, The Washington Post, JazzWise, The Root, AARP The Magazine, and Qwest TV. In 2015, he participated in Jazzinstitut Darmstadt’s conference, "Gender and Identity in Jazz," in which he presented an academia essay, "Exploring the Queer Overtones of Sun Ra’s Outer Space Ways. Murph is also a DJ and hosts a weekly jazz show, "Bohemian Theatre" at Eaton Radio. Listen to a sample of his music.

This event is funded as part of the Smithsonian Year of Music. It is co-organized by the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of African American History and Culture, and National Museum of African Art.