Newark Symphony Hall unveils 100-foot ‘Black Newark’ mural in honor of city’s legendary performers

Black Newark Unveils at Newark Symphony Hall - Credit: Rachel Fawn Alban, Gaia, Ernest Shaw

Sarah Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, Woody Shaw and Queen Latifah — all global legends who have contributed in some way to Newark’s arts history and who are all featured on a new 100-foot mural in the city that was unveiled to the public on Tuesday.

Newark Symphony Hall, Mayor Ras J. Baraka and the city of Newark’s Division of Arts and Cultural Affairs celebrated the completion of the new multi-façade mural installation, “Black Newark,” which was painted by artists GAIA and Ernest Shaw. Located at 1020 Broad St., the wall wraps into the rear of the performing arts venue and invites pedestrians into a nook off Broad Street.

The mural will encourage convening and be used for a variety of gathering opportunities by NSH and the community.

“We are honored to unveil Black Newark in tandem with Newark Symphony Hall’s 98th anniversary this month,” Talia Young, CEO of NSH, said. “This mural that will live on the south corner of the hall pays homage to the global legends who have contributed to this anchor arts institution, also representing the future generations of creatives. It encourages the future development of the Black creative economy in this city and beyond.”

“This mural captures the essence of a life force that permeates our city’s vibrant history and its powerfully creative present,” Baraka said. “Newark pulses with an unbridled energy for soaring expression. The faces we see on this façade encapsulate our ability to conjure music and poetry from the rhythm of streets steeped in our ancestral spirit. I’m so proud and grateful for the artists and everyone who contributed to this surge of talent splashed across these walls. It is evidence of Newark’s determination to write its own story and sing our own song.”

Black Newark speaks to the institution’s nearly 100-year presence in the community. The primary wall features a montage of figures of impact, both famed and unsung.

On the left, a sequence commences with Sarah Vaughn, the Newark native, after whom NSH’s 3,500-seat main concert hall was named. The placement and scale honor her upcoming centennial celebration. Following is Henry Lewis, the first Black conductor of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, who strengthened and increased the orchestra’s capacity. Lewis also demonstrated a devotion to presenting music to the entire community, approaching New Jersey’s neighborhoods, where performances of classical music were virtually unknown.

Centered is Leontyne Price, the first Black soprano to receive international acclaim, who packed the venue on March 25, 1970. Concluding the series is Amiri Baraka, Newark’s beloved poet, who created a number of defining texts for Black culture, and Woody Shaw, a multi-disciplined jazz musician who grew up in Newark, and attended Arts High School. Shaw is known as one of the most influential jazz trumpeters and composers of the 20th century.

A back wall features Jimi Hendrix and recounts April 5, 1968, when the Jimi Hendrix Experience was scheduled to perform at Newark Symphony Hall the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. After playing one improvisation that he dedicated to MLK, Hendrix left the stage. An additional small façade facing Broad St. includes profiles of Queen Latifah and Celia Cruz, two women who are instrumental to the industry and to uplifting their hometown, and the Newark community.

Tying these walls together are pastel drawings, the depiction of graphic masks, and Adinkra geometric shapes. A great blue heron is centered and has migratory patterns in the wetlands of Ghana and Newark.

Black Newark was commissioned by the Division of Arts and Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Greater Newark Convention & Visitors Bureau and Invest Newark. The project was managed by Rebecca Pauline Jampol, co-director of Project for Empty Space.