MONTCLAIR, NJ - It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood as the Montclair African-American Heritage Foundation held its annual festival at Nishuane Park.
Starting out on Maple Avenue, more than 100 participants gathered to march in the annual parade.
Leading off the parade, the township's fire department and utility vehicles, along with beautifully polished fire trucks, led the way. In the past, they usually ended this annual parade, but this year they paved the way as part of the official start.
As an incentive to bring people out for the parade this year, two of Montclair's own talents were showcased. Former 'The Voice' contestant Autumn Turner and song stylist / DJ Denise Hamilton, provided live serenade during the course of the parade.
Prior to the start of the parade, founder, Audrey Fletcher took to the mic and made a call to arms for people in the community to be vigilant in keeping a watch over the community. She asked people to get involved and understand what's going on, in what many residents see as the overdevelopment of Montclair. She spoke of open space properties, especially in the 4th ward. A call that was echoed throughout the parade route.
Starting from Maple Avenue, the parade turned left up Bloomfield Avenue with Autumn Turner performing songs that she covered during The Voice run from such artists as Whitney Houston ( "I wanna Dance with Somebody "), R Kelly ( I Am a Winner ) and the Queen of Disco Donna Summer ( "Last Dance ") all to the delight of the on lookers as the parade made its rounds. Denise Hamilton announced the 2017 Ambassadors and Grand Marshals as follows:
Principal James N. Earle, Montclair High School
George Marable of DLV Lounge
James and Joanne Jefferson of Jefferson Café
Montclair Fire Department
Montclair High School, Center for Social Justice
Montclair Sentinels Sixteen-87, Inc
Froncel and Susan Anderson of Purchased Possessions
The 2017 Grand Marshals:
Harrison Kadel Allen, Posthumously - served in the Quatermaster unit, better known as the Red Ball Express
Samuel Debnam - United States Airforce as an instrument and propeller specialist for the B-17 aircraft
John B. Knox -Seargent 1st class 3rd armored division under General George Patton
William Monroe- Staff Seargent among soldiers to meet French General Charles de Gaulle
Clarence Wilson - Corporal in the 3404th Quarter Master US Army
Approaching Nishuane Park and the Grandstand, the crowds became numerous as Autumn Turner sang her last chorus of Last Dance hitting her signature high note to welcoming applause.
Founding member Lonnie Brandon officiated as announcer of parade participants.
After the parade residents and visitors entered Nishuane park to a sea of classic cars, a tradition in the parade, leading to the tennis court park house, was entertainment by the Drums of Thunder from Hillside School, and a host of vendors selling both food and merchandise.
The children's activity area was arranged by Christine Brewington included wall climbing, games, bounce houses and an animal farm. Educational activities included a musical workshop constructing shakaras with musician Billy Bungo, one of the artists appearing in the showcase line up.
Following the drum performance, attention was drawn to center stage and the pouring of the libations ceremony, an African tradition recognizing the ancestors. Brandon put out the call for people to gather, he then asked for the Grand Marshals' permission, and with their yes the libations were poured and the MAAHF festival was officially open.
Autumn Turner joined the stage to sing an A cappella rendition of the Negro National Anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing."
First up to the stage, Billy Bungo and Highlife delivered a jazz afro-flavored tour de force of rhythmic sounds great for opening the park, inviting people to the dance floor that was incorporated into the planning of this year's festival.
As part of MAAHF commitment to education, it again took time to present and recognize student achievements in the presentation of scholarships to the following: Jamie Washington (Montclair State University), Ibn Wallace (Montclair State University ), Shanice Oke (Kean University) and Noah Blake (Oswego State).
Gospel Group Harvey Morris and the House of Praise brought forth a mix of Gospel, hip hop and R&B with accompanying artist Jacquelyn Graham of Montclair .
A DJ mix set was in between performances. Hosted by Eddie Nicholas, holding it down, were two Montclair residents DJ L Boogie and DJ Beloved. Performances included Sheba Jordon and Vangela Crowe, of New Generation Records. One of the highlights of the afternoon was the stilt walker dancers defying gravity and balancing on stilts extending over 8ft. Musical band, Avenue G took one on a trip down memory lane covering songs from Frankie Beverly and Maze, Chaka Khan, Luther Vandross to Daftpunk.
Steve Lovell then stepped to the stage with his live band and background vocalist and had the crowd amazed with his vocal styling of original tunes and dance covers. Closing out the show Montclair artist Gabi the Artist, who presented a mix of Neo Soul.
For information on activities, upcoming events and volunteer information go to www.maahf.org