A Place Called Grace: Black Women Rock!

Black Women Rock! logo and hashtag.

We went to Black Women Rock! for a chance to see SATE, a Canadian powerhouse rock/funk/blues singer we'd admired since hearing "A Place Called Grace" at the turn of the decade. The $45 tickets were pricey by our spoiled standards but we felt good about supporting the show. The venue was a novelty: the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. So was CeCe Peniston in the lineup. We didn't know anyone else on the bill except "honored guest" Nona Hendryx; seemed like we'd heard that name somewhere.

Guitar Gabby performing on stage at Black Women Rock!
Guitar Gabby

We missed most of the first artist's set, Atlanta's Guitar Gabby and her brilliant green guitar, because one of us had to buy earrings from a vendor in the museum's beautiful lobby. But once we took our seats inside the auditorium, the next three artists had our full attention: Ideeyah, Sylvia Black and rapper Mahogany Jones. The backing musicians quickly earned our applause, especially bassist Tracy Wormworth from the B-52s.
Ideeyah performing on stage at Black Women Rock!
Ideeyah is an electro and soul singer from Detroit

Sylvia Black is a rock and jazz bassist, singer and songwriter.
Sylvia Black
Mahogany Jones performing a set of hip hop.
Mahogany Jones

Jackie Venson is an expert guitarist.
Jackie Venson

Each artist's set was introduced by award-winning poet, publisher, performance artist and Black Women Rock! founder jessica Care moore. According to Moore, the next artist left the audience at PJ's Lager House gaping earlier this year. Jackie Venson's natural talent on the guitar and versatile voice left us amazed as well, and immediate fans. We bought one of Venson's CDs during the break, and look forward to a return show at PJ's in August.

Joan Belgrave (left) and jessica Care moore
A pretty high bar had been set for the second half of the evening. Backed by Ideeyah and special guest vocalist Joan Belgrave, Moore raised it even higher, with a performance that demonstrated why she's a quintuple "It's Showtime at the Apollo" competition winner. Her incisive stage "ranter" throughout the show imparted perspective we all need to hear, about being a black woman, being a black woman and rock musician, and Detroit. "We take people downtown and they ask, 'Where are the black people?' They're east and west, in the real Detroit."

When SATE stormed the stage at last, three songs left us anything but sated. Like a warrior from a futuristic sci-fi movie she is fierce and a force. Watch for a new album from the Toronto resident later this year.

SATE took the stage by storm.
SATE wore a futuristic costume and her trademark platinum braids.

CeCe Peniston on stage at Black Women Rock!
CeCe Peniston (right)
It would be easy to dismiss CeCe Peniston as a one-hit wonder, but the fact is she had five number one hits on the U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play list in the early 90s. Far from a has been, she was commanding and regal, and delivered a crowd-pleasing finale of her hit "Finally."

We would have felt like we'd gotten more than our money's worth if the evening had ended there but the best was yet to come. That honored guest? You might know Nona Hendryx as one-third of Labelle, of "Lady Marmalade" fame. At the close of the night, we knew Hendryx as a 73-year-old woman who could rock harder than performers half, heck a third of her age of any gender. She shimmied through Venson's legs, climbed on the drum kit and engaged artist after artist, one-on-one.

Nona Hendryx wore a black leather jacket and bell-bottom print pants.
Nona Hendryx
Nona Hendryx performing on stage.

Nona Hendryx with guitarist Jackie Venson.
Nona Hendryx jamming with Jackie Venson.
Nona Hendryx shimmying on the floor.
Age is just a number when you're Nona.
We knew black women could rock; now we  know how much. We doubt we'll see a better show this year. Thank you, jessica Care moore, for this rock of ages.
Kat Dyson, musical director of Black Women Rock! with Nona Hendryx.
Black Women Rock! Musical director Kat Dyson with Nona

Photos: Russ Gordon/N2D Images