Frederick Douglass posed the following question during his 1852 speech commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence: "What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?" Thirteen years later, on June 19, 1865 (Juneteenth), African Americans got their own "independence day" when Union soldiers rolled into Galveston, Texas, and informed slaves there that the war was over and they were now free.
Today, King James (né Jamie Dennis), founder and member of the local rap group Out of Order, honors Douglass in his "Hip-Hop History," which he will perform Saturday, June 19, during the Missouri Historical Society's weekend celebration of Juneteenth (Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue).
Drawing from his observations while growing up in north St. Louis, King James initially embraced a hardcore, gutter brand of hip-hop (often mislabeled as "gangsta rap") but eventually transformed his lyrical style into something more positive. The 25-year-old lyricist explains, "I started seeing that kids -- I have kids now -- are learning more from hip-hop music than just a teacher sitting there giving them a boring two-hour lecture."
King James has written educational rhymes about Douglass ("Went all the way to England to publish the North Star/But that's all that he was about, abolitionist to the heart"); as well as lyrics about guide Sacagawea and York, the slave-turned-explorer-turned-slave-again who accompanied Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their 1804 cross-country trek.
York's life, and the music of King James and others, provide the centerpieces for the Historical Society's Juneteenth festivities. On Saturday, in addition to King James' raps, opera singers Leonard Rowe and Tamara Haskin will perform selections from York: The Voice of Freedom, an opera composed by Bruce Trinkley, which tells the story of William Clark's slave. Then on Sunday, June 20, there will be a screening of the 2002 Penn State Opera Workshop production of York. Composer Trinkley will attend the events, both beginning at 2 p.m.
For more information on the free events, call 314-746-4599 or visit www.mohistory.org. -- R. L. Nave
Cut It Out!
Cut glass means many things to many people. Some like to drink from such pieces. For others, cut glass can serve the purpose of storing and pouring a liquid. And for still others, cut glass is simply brilliant; those people should visit the three-storied 19th-century Samuel Cupples House (3673 John E. Connelly Plaza, Saint Louis University campus; 314-977-3575). Glass fans can see all kinds of products from the Brilliant period in American cut glass from Saturday, June 19, through the end of September. Both decorative and beautifully functional pieces from a century or so ago will be on display (Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.). House admission is $3 to $4. -- Alison Sieloff
Go for the Juggler
World Juggling Day may not be celebrated by a large percentage of American families (well, not yet, anyway), but the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. If even a handful of people seize the day and juggle something, anything, then the power of the holiday has increased, and next year's celebration will be grander than this year's. This year's is pretty good, though. If you already registered with the Everyday Circus (314-436-7676), you can attend the 10 a.m. Bagels and Balls Breakfast at the City Museum (701 North Fifteenth Street), where you get bean balls, a quick lesson and bagels for your $10. Or you can juggle wadded-up socks at home, mystically joining in the universal celebration through your solitary act of juggling. -- Paul Friswold
He's No Lewis or Clark, But . . .
Time was, St. Louisans could flock to Left Bank Books for the marathon Ulyssess reading on Bloomsday, but those days are passed. Bloomsday is named for Leopold Bloom, one hero of the James Joyce novel set in Dublin on June 16, 1904. Wait, 1904? Why, this is the centenary celebration! In Dublin, Joyceans will walk Bloom's path -- something we can't do here, but there are a few places to find a perfect pint of Guinness: Head to Dressel's (419 North Euclid Avenue -- a Welsh pub, but literary); Duff's (392 North Euclid Avenue); and, of course, John D. McGurk's (1200 Russel Boulevard) for Irish drink and song. It's not St. Patrick's Day, but for many die-hards it's just as big. -- Mark Dischinger