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“Rent Party”: African American Urban Dance Music from Ragtime to House

April 18 @ 6:00 pm 9:00 pm EDT

A black-and-white photo of Black men and women dancing in a crowded room

Join us for a tribute to the Rent Party, a site of music and dance experience for the black urban migrant of the early 1900s. The Rent Party was an opportunity for confident, joyful self-expression and freedom from codes that regulated racial and sexual conduct, freedom from the ideals of uplift, sobriety, and propriety. It was a moment and a space for staking vernacular pleasure. It was an unapologetic place for Black creative expression.

This evening will begin with a presentation by Professor Shana Redmond of Columbia University on the philosophical and symbolic significance of the Rent Party followed by a music and dance performance that pays homage to the dynamic Rent Party dance music tradition. Peabody Jazz Studies faculty members Nasar Abadey (percussion) and Richard Johnson (piano) will play an improvisational jam session showcasing the evolution of Black musical history. Baltimore house music dancers will respond to the music live, artfully demonstrating their distinctive stylistic movement. A catered wine reception will immediately follow the program.

This free program commemorates the life of Donald V. Bentley and is presented by the JHU Billie Holiday Center for Liberation Arts in partnership with the Baltimore Museum of Art. Registration is encouraged. 

Register on the BMA’s website.


6 p.m. – Auditorium doors open
6:30 p.m. – Program begins
The Folk Were Fly: Rent Parties and Other Tunnels presentation by Dr. Shana Redmond (45 minutes)
Music and dance performance (25 minutes)
7:45 p.m. – Program ends
7:45–9 p.m. – Reception in Fox Court


Johns Hopkins University Billie Holiday Center for Liberation Arts

Founded by Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and Baltimore native Lawrence Jackson, The Billie Holiday Center for the Liberation Arts (BHCLA) is an initiative designed to foster organic links between Johns Hopkins University and the historic African American communities of Baltimore, celebrating the strengths and amazing potential of both.

Shana L. Redmond

Shana L. Redmond (she/her) is a writer and scholar. She is the author of two acclaimed books, Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora (NYU Press, 2014) and Everything Man: The Form and Function of Paul Robeson (Duke University Press, 2020), which received numerous accolades, including a 2021 American Book Award. Her work with musicians includes liner notes and essays for albums by Nina Simone and Wadada Leo Smith. A 2023 Guggenheim Fellow, she is Professor of English and Comparative Literature and the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University and past President of the American Studies Association (2023-2024).

Nasar Abadey

American-born jazz musician Nasar Abadey is well known worldwide. Abadey has made a name for himself in the jazz world, particularly in the sub-genre of free jazz, because of his ardent love of music. Recognized for his dynamic and rhythmic style, which deftly combines avant-garde and classic jazz components, as well as his natural capacity for improvisation, Abadey has emerged as a formidable presence in the jazz realm. Abadey is the founder, leader, and driving force of SUPERNOVA® and additional performing ensembles. Each configuration performs music from the threshold of jazz to beyond space and time, through traditional African rhythms, bebop, fusion, and free form. Abadey’s performance credits include Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Pharoah Sanders and other national artists. He has served as a Music Panelist for DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, respectively. Among his many honors and awards, he is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the DC Jazz Festival, as well the John Coltrane Black Classical Music, Living Legends in Music and Culture Award from the UBC Organization. Nasar Abadey is currently a Professor in the Jazz Studies Department of the Peabody Institute, Johns Hopkins University.

Richard D. Johnson

Born in Pittsburgh, home to jazz greats Art Blakey, Ray Brown, Jeff “Tain” Watts, and Ahmad Jamal, Richard D. Johnson has strong territorial jazz roots. He was first introduced to the piano at the age of five by his father, a gospel pianist in the church born and raised in Baltimore. After graduating from the Berklee School of Music in just two years, Richard entered the Boston Conservatory where he earned a Master’s degree in Jazz Pedagogy. He then went on to receive an Artist Performance Diploma at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at New England. An invited member of the Wynton Marsalis Septet and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Richard played with Marsalis from 2000-2005. The U.S. State Department has honored him as a United States Musical Ambassador. Currently, the accomplished composer and arranger is the founding member of AFAR Music, a jazz record label focusing on Jazz and Salsa musicians. A Yamaha-endorsed pianist with over seven musical releases as a leader, Richard serves as the piano instructor for the Ravinia Jazz Program in Chicago. Since 2019, Richard Johnson has worked as an Assistant Professor of Jazz Piano at the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University.


Surprise guests!

About the Donald V. Bentley Memorial Lecture

The Donald Bentley Annual Memorial Lecture is the Billie Holiday Project’s capstone annual public lecture to honor one of Baltimore’s promising young leaders who lost their life in the violence crisis that has been endemic to the city for more than thirty years. Each year, the Billie Holiday Project invites a distinguished arts practitioner and intellectual to address topical, historical, or philosophical issues connecting the work of the arts to the renewal and revitalization of civic life.

The Donald Bentley Annual Memorial Lecture is a unique platform to drive debate and critical reflection on the role of the arts in our everyday lives and in our imagining of a future just world.

Location: Baltimore Museum of Art

10 Art Museum Drive
Baltimore, Maryland 21218