Award-winning musician, scholar to discuss the role of nature in Black spirituals

Along with an afternoon lecture, Jake Blount will perform in the Fine Arts Center Friday night

KINGSTON, R.I – Feb. 22, 2023 – Jake Blount, an award-winning musician and scholar of early folk music of Black Americans, will give a lecture and concert on Friday, Feb. 24, as part of the University of Rhode Island Center for the Humanities’ year-long “Re-Envisioning Nature: An Environmental Humanities Lecture Series.”

The series uses the arts and humanities to address pressing environmental issues concerning the planet. In his lecture, “Go in the Wilderness: Black Spirituals and the Nature Environment,” Blount, of Providence, will address the role of nature in Black spirituals and examine the contradictory descriptions of nature that are portrayed in these spirituals. 

Blount’s discussion is set for 3 p.m. in the Hope Room of the Higgins Welcome Center, 45 Upper College Road, on the Kingston Campus. Friday night, he will perform material from his critically acclaimed album, The New Faith, at 8 in the Concert Hall of the Fine Arts Center, 105 Upper College Road. Registration for both events is required. The lecture will be available for viewing online. For more information, go to the event webpage.

“The Center for the Humanities is thrilled to welcome acclaimed musician and scholar Jake Blount to URI for two events on Friday,” said Evelyn Sterne, director of the Center for the Humanities. “Adding a unique dimension to our year-long environmental humanities series, Blount will use his expertise as a performer and scholar to demonstrate how the arts and humanities help us to understand our complex relationship to nature and engage with the pressing environmental questions of the day.”

Described as Afrofuturism, his album, The New Faith, explores the concept of traditional Black religious music in a post-climate-crisis world. His album was released in September in collaboration with the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This was part of the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings’ African American Legacy Series that explored “rich African American musical and oral heritage in the USA,” according to its website. 

Blount has performed in such venues as the Kennedy Center, Newport Folk Festival, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, and numerous venues across the U.S. and beyond. During his NPR performance last month, Blount described his art as “Black folk music from the future.”

Blount has also presented his scholarly work at museums and universities, including the Smithsonian, Berklee College of Music and Yale University.

The lecture series closes Thursday, April 13, with Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Elizabeth Kolbert. A staff writer with The New Yorker for more than 20 years, Kolbert is the author of “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History,” a study of mass extinctions that won the Pulitzer Prize. Her latest book, “Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future,” has been listed among the best books of the year by The Washington Post, Time, Esquire, and Smithsonian Magazine.

The Center for the Humanities is holding a community-wide Big Read of “Under a White Sky” in preparation for Kolbert’s visit. To take part, fill out the form. The first 100 people to sign up will get a free copy of the book.

Morgan Maleonskie, an intern in URI’s Office of Marketing and Communications, wrote this release.