Young women from across the city were celebrated through the legacy of Marian Anderson last week.
A component of the six-day Wawa Welcome America festival, “HERstory: Uplifting Every Voice,” was hosted last Wednesday at the Philadelphia Film Center, 1412 Chestnut St., in honor of a free screening of “Once in a Hundred Years: The Life and Legacy of Marian Anderson,” a new documentary by Philadelphia-based film producer Bill Nicoletti.
The afternoon of events, which included performances, panels and special guest Mo’ne Davis, former Little League Baseball pitcher, surrounded the premiere of a film telling the story of a South Philadelphia-born singer whose voice changed the world both on musical and social levels.
“Today, we will honor the glorious legacy of Marian Anderson,” said city representative Sheila Hess. “And, we’re going to celebrate some very special young women who are here today in the audience from Philadelphia who are paving their own way and are creating HERStory.”
Sponsored by The Sylvia W. And Randle M. Kauders Foundation, the event intended to inspire and empower young women was crafted by several entities, including by the Office of the City Representative and in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Public Engagement, Office of Engagement for Women, Office of Youth Engagement, and the Philadelphia Film Society.
Set to the sounds of DJ Shorty Wop, the afternoon comprised of motivational speakers and local performers strived to “uplift” every voice in the crowd – just as Marian Anderson’s 1939 performance at the Lincoln Memorial helped to set the stage for the civil rights movement.
“To have all these wonderful people to have the forward thinking to put on an event like this to talk about a voice and a woman’s voice,” Nicoletti said. “…Philadelphia is such a great place and Marian Anderson is such a great American citizen that she was able to use her instrument, her voice, to have a voice for our country. For humanity.”
The lineup of performers, which featured females of all ages, included The Royal Mix, Boom 103.9’s hip-hop artist, Bri Seves, and Aliyan Khayln, a scholar and singer of The Marian Anderson Historical Society Scholars Program & Foundation.
Centering the documentary around young people, including aspiring vocalists, Nicoletti says seeing Khayln perform recently inspired him to create the film, which was accepted into the Rhode Island International Film Festival. In May, the documentary won the Best Documentary Feature prize at the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival.
“The reason that we thought, at Wawa Welcome America, that was important to have an event like this is twofold,” said Michael DelBene, president and CEO of Wawa Welcome America Inc. “First, this movie and the subject of this movie has a very local tie, and you will learn more about the relationship Marian Anderson had and still has with the city of Philadelphia. But, what you may not know is that the producer of this film is also from Philadelphia…The other reason that we thought that it was really important to create an event like this is because at Wawa Welcome America – and all across the city – we believe that it’s important to give vehicles and opportunities for young women.”
Following the film screening of “Once in a Hundred Years,” the event continued its objective to lift women’s voices with an all-female panel discussion hosted by Dyana Williams of Radio One/WRNB 100.3 Philly.
Later, a panel Q&A was led by Paris Nicole and Bri Seves of BOOM 103.9 as well as Mo’ne Davis, who received the City of Philadelphia Liberty Bell from Hess.
“We love to see the impact on young people,” said the Rev. Dr. Lorina Marshall-Blake, president of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation, one of the sponsors of Wawa Welcome America. “And we are so proud to sponsor Welcome America – a party to really show off Philadelphia…a chance to celebrate a time when a nation found its voice but not all voices were included back when. Marian Anderson had to find her own voice as a musician and as a leader.”