From Canvas to Stage: A Tribute to Basquiat

Produced by Wordsmith and Danny Simmons
Thursday, September 7th, 7–10pm



Danny Simmons

Danny Simmons, Jr., is an American abstract painter from Queens, NY, who once coined his particular style of painting as “neo- African Abstract Expressionism.” His talent and passion for the arts reaches beyond the canvas; He is a published author, poet, painter and art philanthropist. 

The New York Times, in reviewing one of his art exhibitions, stated that Simmons “injects freshness” into his abstracts, and that they are “meticulously rendered and decoratively impressive.” Today, his works appear in prominent locales around the globe, including: Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn Museum, Chase Manhattan Bank, Deutsche Bank, Schomburg Center for Black Culture, The Smithsonian, and The United Nations.

Simmons brings an equal passion to the written word, having written the critically acclaimed ‘Three Days as the Crow Flies’ and ‘I Dreamed My People Were Calling But I Couldn’t Find My Way Home’. Danny Simmons also played an instrumental role in the nation’s newfound love for poetry, particularly in the conceiving of and co-producing the hit HBO show Def Poetry Jam, a weekly TV series that exhibits an eclectic blend of old-school poets and new-school poets.

 Simmons is co-founder, along with his siblings, music mogul Russell, and hip hop legend Joseph Simmons aka “Rev Run”, and president of the Rush Arts Gallery. He is also founder and VP of the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization “dedicated to providing disadvantaged urban youth with significant arts exposure and access to the arts.” He is a former board member of the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Public Library, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the National Conference of Artists. Danny Simmons is a former chairman of the New York State Council on the Arts.


Lezlie Harrison

A versatile jazz vocalist, Lezlie Harrison conveys both bold and subtle emotions in vulnerable performances that draw on shared human experiences. Her talent extends across genres including Jazz, Blues, Gospel, Soul, The American Song Form, and her own original compositions, all of which she imbues with her distinctive stamp, making for a very personal delivery. Active in the New York and global jazz scenes, Lezlie Harrison co-founded New York’s world-renowned Jazz Gallery along with entrepreneur Dale Fitzgerald and trumpeter Roy Hargrove. As a regular curator and presenter on jazz radio station WBGO, Harrison conveys the love and pride with which she regards America’s classical music. Her second album, “Let Them Talk” will be released on September 15th.


Shrine for the Black Madonna

Shrine for the Black Madonna is a New York City-based four-piece rock and roll band whose songs cross territories through multiple regions of Black music: deep funk, solar punk, gritty R&B, noise pop, Delta Blues, and more. The group’s border-burning sound is further radicalized by its lyrics: seductive tales of desire, doubt, conflict, and obsession. The results are pop-culture fever dreams—radiant gateways to the Divine Unknowable. Yet for all its heady fire and allure, S4TBM is a party band, a shake-until-the-lights-burst band, delivering euphoric performances that cause audiences to stomp, howl, and move.

Shrine for the Black Madonna is Jared Hassan Foles (guitars), Jarius B. “Jazz” Odums (bass), Gintas Janusonis (drums), and Brian Tate (vocals).

Nioka Workman and the Firey Strings Company

Featuring Charisa the ViolinDiva, Yoojin Park, and Ina Paris

Established in 2011 by Nioka Workman, Firey Strings Company (FSCO) was designed to expand the art of string playing. The company provides cutting edge platforms for the creation and presentation of Jazz and Improvisation. FSCO empowers female artists, composers, and international artists that are seeking opportunity to perform in festival settings, main stages, or work in educational settings. 

Nioka Workman is an artist, composer, curator with numerous credits in the areas of music, dance, theater and film. Her recent highlights include, appearances at Carnegie Hall/City Winery in a Tribute to Paul McCartney, Steve Jordan music director, a feature with Black Rock Coalition Orchestra and with Def Poetry Jam CEO Danny Simmons, Wordsmith & Kayo. Nioka’s musical stylings can be heard worldwide on the recordings of luminary artists like Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, India Arie, DJ Rogers and Joe. Her festival credits in and outside of the USA include; Greater Hartford Jazz Festival, Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival, Summer Stage at Billie Holiday Theater, the International African Arts Festival, Montreal Jazz Festival, and Sons’d Hiver Festival in Paris. She actively curates and arranges music for events through (FSCO) Firey Strings Company. FSCO has features on Grammy nominated Betty LaVette’s ‘Blackbirds’ and in JFA’s virtual showcase “Bird Calls, celebration of Charlie Parker”. Nioka is currently part of the Once Upon A One More Time show on Broadway. Occasionally, she tours with Leslie Parker Dance and her own band Firey String Sistas.

Charisa the ViolinDiva, souljazz violinist/ vocalist has devoted her career to challenging every preconception of what a violinist can accomplish in contemporary music. Classically trained, her diversity and versatility has allowed her to travel the world, recording and performing alongside such artists as Lauryn Hill, Paul McCartney, Vivian Green, Kim Burrell, Cyndi Lauper, and Quincy Jones, to name a few. In December 2022, her song “Bethlehem” was featured in BETs movie “A Miracle before Christmas”. In June 2023, she began a progressive hip hop/jazz fusion orchestra that seeks to showcase orchestral diversity and black excellence across the genres, and throughout history. Beyond performing, Charisa is an in demand teaching artist in public schools. She has developed “the StringTastic Curriculum” targeted at reaching young minority string players; which she uses regularly to reach 200 black and latino students annually. Charisa has proudly called Newark NJ her home for the last ten years with her producer & drummer husband James Rouse. On the national stage, she has won the Apollo Amateur Night Competition, performed for senators and dignitaries, rocked next to Patti Labelle and Misty Copeland on BET Black Girl’s Rock, won the McDonald’s Gospelfest Competition with her unique fusion of soul, jazz, hot pink violin, and voice. 

Yoojin Park is a New York City-based violinist and composer from South Korea. She’s a Universal Music Group International artist with her album release West End and has been performing her music from her album with her band in NYC such as Blue Note Jazz Club, Rockwood Music Hall, Smalls and Jazz Gallery. She has toured with DJ KSHMR at Ultra Korea, Ultra Singapore, Sunburn Festival in India, and IleSoniq in Montreal. She has also worked with pop artists, featured in music videos and recordings with artists such as YUNGBLUD and Madison Beer and also has performed with Josh Groban, Sarah Brightman, Debora Cox and many more. She’s worked with many jazz musician greats and has performed at the Jazz Foundation of America’s “Bird Calls” show, tributing to the 100th birth anniversary of Charlie Parker. Furthermore, she recently recorded the soundtrack for ‘Descendant’, the Sundance Film Festival premiere documentary, which was later acquired by Netflix with HigherGround Productions, Former President Barack Obama’s Oscar-winning label.

At the center of Ina Paris’ music are the rhythms and sounds of Latin and Jazz. She performs with Glamor Tango, Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, Quartette Indigo, Astoria Tango Orchestra, New York Tango Sextet, Abaddon, Charanga Broadway, and Leading Ladies of Tango. Ina appears in recordings with Jazz greats Wynton Marsalis, Regina Carter and John Blake. She has collaborated with a wide range of accomplished artists, such as Harry Connick Jr., Alice Cooper, Mark Anthony, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Nicole King Cole, Edina Menzel, and Steven Van Zandt in the Netflix series Lillyhammer. Her classical collaborations include the New York Camerata, Brandenburg Ensemble, Brooklyn Metro Chamber Orchestra, Washington Heights Camerata, Soulful Symphony, Queens Baroque Orchestra and the Queens College Orchestra. On Broadway, Ina performs in Dear Evan Hansen, Pretty Woman, and holds the viola chair on & Juliet. Ina has toured Europe, North and South America, Africa and recently China with Glamor Tango. She has appeared on television with Soundtrack ’63 at the Apollo Theater, Jesus Christ Superstar live concert on NBC with John Legend, Elton John’s Grammy Tribute with Chris Martin on CBS, Annie Live! on NBC, Dear Evan Hansen movie, and Netflix movie Maestro. An award-winning musician, Ina recorded “La Bella Cubana” as part of La Camerata Romeu, which received Cuba’s equivalent to a Grammy (Premio de la Critica Especializada).


Toni Blackman

Toni Blackman is a poet, rap lyricist, and the first official U.S. Hip Hop ambassador, whose influence in Hip Hop education, theater, and diplomacy has left a mark on the global stage. With a remarkable career spanning over 50 countries, Toni has collaborated with legendary names in the industry, captivating audiences with her mesmerizing performances. As a trailblazer, Toni founded innovative projects like Freestyle Union Cypher Workshop and Rhyme like a Girl (RLAG), garnering recognition and prestigious fellowships with Echoing Green Foundation and Open Society Institute. Her recent RLAG tour across Botswana, Equatorial Guinea, and Cameroon solidified her status as a powerhouse performer and leader. With 2024 dates in Holland and Brazil, the international showcase for Toni’s talents continue.

Toni seamlessly blends Hip Hop, spirituality, and mindfulness, captivating followers with her innovative Hip Hop Meditation series. The release of the music series begins in September and her forthcoming project, a collaboration with Senegalese singer Kader Kara, is highly anticipated. An accomplished writer, Toni’s upcoming October book release, Wisdom of the Cypher, offers profound spiritual insights from her transformative platforms.

Bonafide Rojas

Bonafide Rojas is the author of four collections of poetry: Notes On The Return To The Island (2017), Renovatio (2014), When The City Sleeps (2012) & Pelo Bueno (2004). He is an Inaugrual Letra Boricuas Fellow, has appeared on Def Poetry Jam & his works has also been published in the anthologies: Kweli Journal: Poets For Puerto Rico, (2019); Manteca (Arte Publico Press, 2017); Chorus: A Literary Mixtape (MTV Books, 2012); Learn Then Burn Pt’s 1 & 2 (Write Bloody, 2010, 2015); Role Call (Third World Press, 2002); & Bum Rush the Page (Three Rivers Press, 2001). He has performed nationally & internaionally, solo & with his band The Mona Passage. He’s performed at Lincoln Center, The Brooklyn Museum, El Museo Del Barrio, Bowery Ballroom, Philadelphia Museum Of Art, Rotterdam Arts Center, Konvent Zero Barcelona, Latinale Berlin, Hafen Lesung Hamburg, Festival Kerouac Spain & Festival De La Palabra Puerto Rico. He only wears red socks.

Kraal “Kayo” Charles

Kraal “Kayo” Charles, a Brooklyn native, is a performer, playwright, and producer. He has traveled extensively around the globe to be featured on stage, television, radio, and film. Kayo began his career on New York City’s poetry slam scene, becoming the youngest Grand Slam Champion at the legendary Nuyorican Poets Café in 1998. He was the first poet ever to present to audiences of thousands at the Harlem Book Fair and millions at the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop in Times Square. 

Kayo was highlighted during the inaugural season of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and in the documentaries, Bone Bristle and Hughes Dreams Harlem. He has shared the stage with literary legends Maya Angelou, Terry McMillan, and Chinua Achebe and has performed for luminaries Senator Charles Schumer, Congressman Gregory Meeks, and Comptroller William Thompson.

Derick D. Cross

Derick “D-Cross” Cross is a Queens, NY born Brooklyn-based multi dimensional visual and vocal hip hop artist. D-Cross has performed at venues nationally and internationally, including Madison Square Garden and Lincoln Center. His “Vocal Beat Expressionist” talents have been highlighted on MTV, The Electric Company TV series, Nickelodeon, and BET’s 106’s and Park. His vocal skills have also appeared on the award-winning Alfac “Pigeon Rap” ad and 7-Up’s “10” campaign.

D-Cross was a featured artist on Season 3 of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam as well as DefPoetry Reunion Shows (live) (2017, 2018, & 2021) and the 2002-2003 Hottest Poets Spoken Word Grand Champion. Mr. Cross has also served as an Arts Educator for over two decades. He obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts from SVA (The School of Visual Arts) regularly creating paintings, murals and sculptures.

Vanessa Hidary

Vanessa Hidary is an internationally acclaimed spoken word artist, solo performer, author, actress, writer, and director, who grew up on Manhattan’s culturally diverse Upper West Side. Her experiences as a Sephardic Jew with close friends from different ethnic and religious backgrounds inspired her to write “Culture Bandit” the nationally toured solo show that chronicles Vanessa’s coming of age during the golden age of Hip-Hop.

Hidary has aired three times on “Russell Simmons Presents ‘Def Poetry Jam’ on HBO, and is featured in the award winning film The Tribe, which was selected for the Sundance Film Festival, The Tribeca Film Festival, and The Jewish Motifs International Film Festival in Warsaw, Poland. She has also developed and directed the show MONOLOGUES: an evening of solo performances by 15 young adults, exploring their Jewish identity, inspired by a 10-day trip through Israel. In 2015, Hidray created The Kaleidoscope Project, a narrative-arts driven initiative. In 2011, she published her first collection of poems and stories called “The Last Kaiser Roll in the Bodega.”​

Abiodun Oyewole

As one of the founding members of the legendary Harlem group The Last Poets, Abiodun Oyewole has dedicated almost 60 years to using his poetry to articulate, glorify and protest the impurities of the black experience worldwide, and in America particularly.  He has become a fixture in the landscape of black consciousness, using uncompromising verse to scold a nation whose inclination to maintain the colonial yoke around the neck of the disenfranchised has always been at issue. For that, he has been honored and appreciated by millions.  


Patrick Dougher

Born and raised in Brooklyn NY, Patrick Dougher is a self-taught artist, musician, poet, educator & spiritual activist. Patrick has played and recorded with Grammy award winners Sade, Chuck D (Public Enemy) and Dan Zanes as well as many other notables. He is the drummer on “Dub Side of the Moon” one of the best selling Reggae LP’s of all time. He has worked as a Teaching Artist in NYC public schools, as an Art Therapist working with HIV positive children and as the Director of community arts organizations. For over 20 years Patrick has used the arts to empower and support the socio-emotional growth and health of “at-risk” and disenfranchised youth of the city. Through his art Patrick seeks to inspire and to celebrate the noble beauty and divine nature of people of African descent and to connect urban African American culture to its roots in sacred African art, spirituality and ritual.

Anthony Carlos Molden

Philadelphian Anthony Carlos Molden is a self-taught artist who uses mixed media to create his paintings and sculptural work. Molden frequently uses found materials sourced from construction sites, trash piles, and other places. His interest in found materials comes from a desire to repurpose discarded objects. He calls it a “creative cleanup.” By recycling found elements, Molden instills them with a renewed energy.

Raphael Tiberino

Artist and educator Raphael Tiberino began painting at the age of four and has been in the spotlight as a professional creative for over 25 years. The style of his latest work can be traced back to his love of comics as a child. As a co-founder of the Subculture Gallery in New York City, Tiberino curated and participated in numerous art shows, including the 2004 “Kapow! Boom! Zap!: The Power of Comics” exhibit at the Rush Arts Gallery in Chelsea. He is president of The Ellen Powell Tiberino Memorial Museum, established in 1999 by Raphael’s father, the late muralist Joseph Tiberino, to celebrate his wife and famed artist, Ellen. The museum houses an extensive collection of Ellen and Joe’s artwork alongside those by other artists. Teaching art is also a love of Tiberino’s and he has been teaching off and on, since his graduation from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.