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Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Giving Voice

Youth Culture

Language is primary to all learning, and storytelling helps children acquire some of their earliest communication skills. When children interact with other children, they rely primarily on word play—through lyrics, phrases, and sentences—to literally give them a voice and to help them define their place in the world. The culture of African American children and youth is often the source of newly coined words and expressions.

At the Festival, games, rhymes, and demonstrations targeted to youth tell and show how African American oral traditions continue to thrive. Puppeteers, actors, storytellers, poets, and other performers present their art engaging youth and the young at heart. Children and youth are invited to get involved and find their own voice through ongoing craft projects, poetry, storytelling, and theater workshops. Visit the Young Wordsmiths tent to join in the fun.

Featured Participants

Asante Children's Theatre, Indianapolis, Indiana
The Asante Children's Theatre is a professional theater organization committed to preserving African and African American performing arts traditions. Its instructors use theater, music, dance, and storytelling to develop the life skills of young people from twelve to twenty-one.

Schroeder Cherry, Baltimore, Maryland
Cherry is a puppeteer who performs African American puppet shows for children. His performances, including one on the Underground Railroad, trace events in African American history.

The Dr. Beverly Robinson Community Folk Culture Program, Bronx, New York
Part of the Mind-Builders Creative Arts Center in the Bronx, the Robinson Community Folk Culture Program trains youth, aged thirteen to eighteen, to research and present community-based traditions. The Program has presented various tradition-bearers, including Black cowboys, gospel singers, and traditional musicians.

Hot Topic All Stars, Alexandria, Virginia
Hot Topic All Stars is an award-winning cheerleading team composed of multitalented young girls who combine the vocal artistry of neighborhood cheers with gymnastics and dance skills drawn from the traditions of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The group was founded by three former cheerleaders, Brenda Holloway, Iyona Hawkins, and Shenika Farmer, who work in the City of Alexandria's Recreation Department.

Ella Jenkins, Chicago, Illinois
Jenkins is a legendary children's storyteller-singer from Chicago. Self-trained as a musician, Jenkins uses call-and-response to teach children about musical traditions. With dozens of recordings on Smithsonian Folkways to her name, Jenkins received a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.

Rappers and hip-hop artists, such as Roots Manuva (shown here in white hat), are vital elements of African American oral culture. Photo © Lebrecht Music & Arts/Corbis.