New show Our America: Hidden Stories connects Philadelphia music to African ancestry, culture

TaRhonda Thomas Image
Friday, May 26, 2023
New show connects Philadelphia music to African ancestry, culture
The story of music in Philadelphia is part of the special program "Our America: Hidden Stories" with journalist Nikole Hannah Jones

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Looking at the lives of Black Americans through a different lens was the purpose behind the 1619 Project. It explores how slavery still impacts the lives of African Americans.

ABC News has partnered with journalist and 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones for the new show "Our America: Hidden Stories."

It shares stories across the country inspired by the legacy of African Americans from the moment they were brought to the U.S. as slaves.

That impact of slavery is also present in forms of Black artistic expression.

In African culture, the griot has long been held as the keeper of stories. They are responsible for telling the history that keeps a culture alive. Those griots are still preserving stories of the African American experience, but in a different form.

"The griot told stories by way of the drum and through lyric," said multi-platinum songwriter and producer Carvin Haggins while working in his music studio in Philadelphia.

Working with artists including Will Smith, Jill Scott, Justin Timberlake and Musiq Soulchild, Haggins carved out a niche in the early 2000s that revolved around positive soul music that spoke to people around the world.

His ability to encompass experiences in song was inspired by two other Philadelphia Music Legends: Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.

Better known as "Gamble and Huff," the duo established Philadelphia International Records and forged a sound that defined a generation of Black Americans.

With songs like "Ain't No Stopping Us Now," "Me and Mrs. Jones," "Love Train" and the theme to the show Soul Train. The duo stood out for their big arrangements and their commitment to creating songs that reflected the true Black experience.

Dexter Wansel created alongside them as an arranger, composer, songwriter and artist.

"Those messages were life-altering for a lot of us. Really helped in ways where people would start to stand up," said Wansel.

It's an inspiration for Haggins, who some have called the next Kenny Gamble.

"I'm walking in his footsteps," Haggins said of Gamble. "I can't fit his shoes!"

He knows the comparison isn't just a compliment, it's a responsibility to continue the storytelling duties of the griot.

"It's only right for me to do that," Haggins said, "to write records that record our community."

The story of music in Philadelphia is part of the special program "Our America: Hidden Stories" with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah Jones. The show airs Saturday, May 27th at 5:30 p.m. on 6ABC.