The Avant Garde, a local promoter, has won a $10,000 Artist Initiative grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC) to help put on a concert series that will focus on artists of color in the Twin Cities. Starting on Nov. 18, the concerts will each feature a different set of R&B and neo-soul artists whose goal is to continue the legacy of black artists who came before them.
“To actually win a grant is a beautiful thing because I am able to go back to people and let them know that they can do it,” said Chadwick Phillips, the founder and CEO of The Avant Garde. “The future of Twin Cities music is looking very bright. There are so many incredible artists here and there are a lot of people moving here looking at the Twin Cities as the next big thing — and that comes down to music, the arts and theater. It’s a beautiful thing for me to be here, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in my career.”
Phillips started the production company to honor the black musicians who came before him, from the Harlem Renaissance all the way up to the birth of hip-hop. Growing up in a musical family he was inspired by the his father, Sam Gill, a bassist who played with some of the most influential jazz musicians of his time before joining the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Gill recently retired after 48 years, making him the longest-tenured African-American bassist in a symphony orchestra.
While the grant is specifically focused on supporting artists of color, Phillips says The Avant Garde has a broader focus. Although he believes it is important to recognize and pay tribute to black musicians who created the R&B and neo-soul he promotes, to him music is universal and he strives to include all artists regardless of their race.
“When you think of soul music, it connects with artists of color who have created some amazing music, but to me art has no color to it. It’s spiritual,” he said. “But, on the flip side of that, the abyss of artistic expression that has inspired me and that I came of age in was derived from artists of color… Art has no color, but I am a person of color.”
It’s no secret that in a primarily white state, artists of color often face challenges getting the same opportunities as their white peers, but Phillips is excited to bring more opportunities to artists of color through the concert series funded by MRAC. He hopes people will be inspired by the depth of diverse talent the Twin Cities has.
“I want people to walk away inspired. I want them to know and understand just how powerful music with a message can be when it’s performed live. I want them to know that the Twin Cities has some absolutely incredible, amazing artists that are on the rise,” he said. “The Avant Garde, I am very proud of it being a great representative of that. So to bring all these artists together to showcase in front of our society, in front of our community, I want them to be inspired and just on a natural high of what we have here in the Twin Cities.”
The first installment of The Avant Garde’s concert series, on Sat., Nov. 18 at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall, will feature a mix of music from Niles (the stage name of Phillips himself), Courtland Pickens, Mayyadda, and Kennadi Hurst; along with spoken-word performers Nico and Symone Johnson Hawkins.
Simone Cazares is a student at Saint Paul College. Originally from Miami, Fla., she survives Minnesota’s cruel winters by immersing herself in the Twin Cities music scene.