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"Harlem on my Mind" comes to Ossining Library

OSSINING, N.Y. – New Rochelle performer Julia Breanetta Simpson knows when people finish seeing her performance of “Harlem on My Mind” Sunday at the Ossining Public Library, they’re going to get more than entertainment.

“I think they’re going to want to more by just listening to the music or by picking up a book and learning about it,” Simpson said. “What I like to do with my shows is educate while I entertain. The best part is inspiring people to learn more and I know that’s what they’re going to want to do when they walk out.”

The free, one time only performance of “Harlem on My Mind” at the Ossining Library starts at 3 p.m. Sunday in the library’s Budarz Theatre. Simpson, a cabaret chanteuse, said the one-woman show seeks to recall the Harlem Renaissance and celebrates the music of Duke Ellington, Thomas “Fats” Waller, Bessie Smith and other stylings made famous during the prohibition era in Harlem.

“A lot of kids and even some adults don’t really know the background of our music and how we got to where we are today,” Simpson said. “I love that music and sharing it with people who could be experiencing this legendary work for the first time.”

Simpson said there’s a great deal of cultural influences in the music and the show dives into that as well.

“The Harlem Renaissance was right in the midst of segregation and Jim Crowe. It wasn’t all rosy but it was one of the first times ever where African-Americans were really appreciated for their music and art and culture,” she said. “I really want people to get a feel for that time period. It wasn’t all about prohibition and gangsters. But it was such a rich and wonderful time period, especially for African-American people, in a way a lot of people don’t realize.”

The unique take on an often-overlooked era is what drew Carry Cubillos into making the performance what the Cultural Programming Specialist calls “the highlight of our programs at the library for Black History Month.”

“I believe the combination of that era and the music with Harlem is very important in American history and especially our own New York history,” Cubillos said. “I love the idea and I think a lot of people will too. We have a very big African-American community here but I think it’s going to be a show everyone will love.”

Cubillos said the show will be special for her as well.

“I’m Hispanic and I’m black too so it’s very important to me to celebrate our culture any chance I get,” Cubillos said. “I do everything in my power to help introduce that culture to the rest of the community and I think people will really love it and they’re going to get so much out of it.”

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