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Porch sessions at ‘the House that Soul built’

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Porch sessions at ‘the House that Soul built’
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The Historic Magnolia House in Greensboro continues blending the past and the future with “Porch Sessions: a Dine-in, Drive-in and Virtual Music Experience,” live from its front porch on Aug. 15.

The fundraising event for “the House that Soul built” was announced with an endorsement from Grammy award-winner and MacArthur Fellow, Rhiannon Giddens, and is presented with local partnerships, in alignment with Black August 2020 events across the country.

“Our upcoming Porch Session has been made possible by the Magnolia House Foundation, Elsewhere, and the Black Artists Voices Group,” said Historic Site Manager and Curator Melissa Knapp. “We began working on the event in July, and are so grateful for the collaboration that has made this event a possibility.” 

Scheduled artists include Brooke Stokes, Charlie Hunter, Debbie the Artist, Demeanor, J Timber, Molly McGinn, and Sam Fribush.

The ticketing structure features three tiers: two in-person options complete with a “shoebox dinner” include socially-distanced lawn seating for $15, or a $30 drive-in option for folks in cars. The event will be streamed live for those who purchase $10 online tickets to watch along from their homes. 

“For the event, we’ll be serving shoe box-inspired meals, with a chicken, burger, and vegetarian option,” Knapp explained. “During the Jim Crow era, Black women frequently packed food in shoeboxes that could be easily eaten in the car or on a train. This prevented black travelers from having to stop in an area without a safe Green Book restaurant.”

The Magnolia House itself was a nationally-acclaimed Green Book destination. Appearing in six editions of the Negro Travelers Guide, it was repeatedly denoted as a highly recommended stay for Black travelers during the Jim Crow era; and remains one of the featured spots of North Carolina’s Green Book sites--one of only a handful left in the state.

“Today, the Magnolia House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and identified as a ‘Distinctive Destination’ by the National Trust for Historic Preservation,” noted April Parker, event organizer and Creative Catalyst Fellow with Elsewhere. “Out of more than 300 Green Book sites to have operated in the state of North Carolina, the Magnolia House is one of four sites still in existence.” 

The Porch Session fundraiser will support structural repairs needed to reopen the house as a functional bed-and-breakfast and event center with an on-site museum, as well as the extra equipment to safely host events under pandemic conditions. 

“We are incredibly excited for this event and incredibly thankful for the support the community has shown us so far,” Knapp said, “the money raised will be instrumental in helping us reach these goals and reopen safely to the community.”

A concert fundraiser is a natural choice for the house as music, and the Magnolia go hand-in-hand. “Jazz Brunch Sunday” has been a staple event since the Pass family reopened the Magnolia to the public in 2017. The Miles Davis trumpet on display at the UNCG School of Music came from Buddy Gist, whose parents owned and operated the Magnolia during its Green Book days. 

As a hotel, the grand Victorian-style house welcomed guests like Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Ike and Tina Turner, and Ray Charles. Sam Pass, co-owner and President of the  Magnolia House Foundation, remembers chatting up Joe Tex on the same porch that will act as center stage for the Porch Session fundraiser. James Brown played ball with kids on the same streets that attendees will use to arrive. 

While things have been quiet for the past few months because of COVID-19, the Magnolia’s operators intend the Porch Session as a means of picking up momentum where they left off. Before the coronavirus, the house held a steady stream of events ranging from bridal parties to fashion shows, and even a few techno-house parties presented by Strictly Social’s Alvin Shavers and DJ Real.

“We’re still planning on partnering with the UNCG Jazz program, and are excited to hopefully have our Jazz Brunch series return on either Aug 23 or 30,” Knapp said, noting they’re currently open for bookings for the next year for private events, including bridal experiences and holiday parties.

Organizers are hopeful the Porch Session becomes a series itself. 

But first, they’re inviting folks to join the upcoming event, “for a joyful celebration of this important history, from the comfort of your own car, as you enjoy delicious food from Magnolia House itself, and listen to great music from its very own front porch.“ 

Katei Cranford is a Triad music nerd who hosts the Tuesday Tour Report, a radio show on hiatus until tours return. 

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