Saturday, June 22, 2024

Kenya Barris, Pharrell Williams Team for Juneteenth Stage Musical Based on ‘Black-ish’ Episode

*The Juneteenth musical that kicked off Season 4 of ABC’s “Black-ish” is about to be expanded into a full-length stage production.

The show’s creator, Kenya Barris and one of its writers, Peter Saji, will team up with Grammy-winning music producer Pharrell Williams for a stage musical inspired by Juneteenth, the African-American holiday widely recognized as the final day of slavery in the U.S.

In the TV episode, an 1865 version of the Johnsons sang and danced to celebrate the freedom stretching out before them on June 19, the day U.S. Army ships descended on Texas, forcing landowners to free the last of the Confederate state’s estimated 250,000 enslaved people, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

The double-edged episode went on to tie 21st-century African-American middle-class reality to the country’s brutal past of exploitation and suffering. Since the episode aired last fall, the date is now commemorated on Apple’s iCalendar program, and a movement is gaining momentum to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

Barris and Saji will write the book for the new musical project, with Williams on board to compose the score and produce under his company i am OTHER, with partner Mimi Valdes. Saji also will serve as a producer.

Plot details have not been revealed, but the musical is expected to follow a similar template to the Black-ish episode, focusing on two African-American families — one in contemporary times and the other in the Civil War era.

“The acknowledgement and celebration of Juneteenth as an American and possibly international holiday is something that I would put in the life goals column for me,” Barris said Tuesday in a statement. “For Peter and me to be able to team up with Pharrell on such an important project like this is something that neither of us in a billion years would have thought possible. For us, this project isn’t about numbers; it’s about humanity. Slavery is America’s recessive gene and it’s time we all dealt with it, and what better way to have an audience swallow this dose of medicine than with amazing music and raw, honest, jaw-dropping comedy?”

“I dream about projects like this: Kenya and Peter are geniuses and Juneteenth will change culture and change history,” added Williams. “We couldn’t sign up fast enough.”

A timeline and title has yet to be determine, nor has any indication been given at this point whether Broadway is the goal destination.

Watch the “Black-ish” season 4 opening “Freedom (Juneteenth)” below:

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