by Shawn Nowlin
When Sydney Coleman moved to Roanoke in summer 2007 one of the first things she did was inquire about popular local events. Everyone she asked mentioned the Henry Street Heritage Festival. Sunday, (Oct. 7) marked 12 consecutive years of Sydney attending the event that has become Southwest Virginia’s preeminent celebration of African American heritage.
Since its inception in 1989, the Henry Street Festival has exposed thousands of people to African American heritage through performing arts, merchandise, food vendors, crafts and more.
Initially scheduled for September 15, this year’s festival was postponed due to inclement weather however, organizers pushed through–rescheduled and the event went on without a hitch–with great attendance as well.
Kicking off the day’s entertainment was: Fire the Band, Upscale Band & Show and Toby Foyeh: Wakanda Day Party. The dessert contest consisting of pies, cakes and other sweets generated much interest. Ultimately, the top contestants received cash prizes totaling $250.This year’s main-stage lineup featured three acts – Cece Peniston, Kenny Lattimore and the group Next – who have collectively sold over eight million records worldwide in addition to earning six Soul Train Award nominations. A certain quality of artistry is required to keep fans engaged throughout their entire set. All three main acts showed why they embody such qualities.
Since dropping her debut LP “Finally” (‘92), Peniston has gone on to release two other critically acclaimed albums – “Thought ‘Ya Knew” (‘94) and “I’m Movin’ On” in (‘96).
Peniston, keeping her performance real, personally connected with the audience when mentioning her mother who passed away recently.
“Ya’ll act like this is a funeral,” she chided. “Now I need your (crowd’s) energy to get me through this… this one is for my mother.”
Peniston took her show out into the audience and also briefly interacted with one fan she invited to the stage. She had no problem pushing through her performance that registered extremely well and set the pace for the evening’s headliners.
When it comes to quality R&B music, Camille Sydney, a longtime festival supporter, considers Cece as good as it gets.
“I would have paid for my ticket even if she was the only artist on the bill,” Sydney said. “She performed all of my favorite songs. I just appreciate everything that she represents as a woman.”
Leon Coleman, another attendee, considers Next his favorite R&B group of all time and hoped they would perform “Wifey” and “Too Close,” their two most popular singles. When they did, the Roanoke County native danced as if he was a teenager again in his living room.
“I was able to bring my mother this year, and we had a tremendous time,” Coleman said. “This was definitely one of the best music festivals I’ve ever been to. I’ve yet to be let down by Next.”
It was Kenny Lattimore’s 2003 album Things That Lovers Do with his ex-wife Chante Moore that sold over a million units worldwide. During his set, he performed at least one song off each of his four Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified albums.
“I would define the Henry Street Festival as a place you can go, listen to good music, enjoy a variety of foods, see old friends and meet new people,” festival volunteer Tony Preston said. “I really enjoyed Kenny Lattimore. He is one of the smoothest musicians I’ve ever heard.”