AUBURN — Auburn’s fourth graders performed a musical tribute — and strawberry cake was served — during a 200th birthday celebration for iconic abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
The Genesee Elementary School students who wrote the song with folk duo Magpie performed Saturday at the New York State Equal Rights Heritage Center. Strawberry cake was then served, as strawberries were said to have been one of Tubman’s favorite treats.
Magpie’s Greg Artzner and Terry Leonino created songs about Tubman with Genesee students during weeklong projects for nine years. This year’s song is called “Our Gift To You,” and Artzner said visiting Auburn every year has “become like coming home.”
“Our fourth graders wrote an absolutely amazing song this year. We wanted to do a song this year that was a happy birthday song for Harriet, but not sing ‘Happy Birthday, Harriet’, because Harriet has been deceased for over 100 years. years. It’s ‘happy birthday’ for you. In other words, we celebrate your birthday,” he said.
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As Artzner and Leonino sang the song with the students, Leonino and the students communicated the lyrics via American Sign Language as they sang. Parents and others had their cellphones pointed directly at the performers in order to obtain videos or photos.
Artist Arthur Hutchinson was also on hand to talk about a planned downtown Auburn mural honoring Tubman. The artwork will depict and reference Tubman’s efforts during the Civil War, her work as a suffragist, and the Thompson Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church, where she worshipped, among other aspects of her life.
Saying art is “probably the oldest form of teaching and learning,” Hutchinson said he wanted to portray different parts of Tubman’s life. He later noted that he was proud to have the opportunity.
“It means a lot to be able to use my ability and my passion to teach, to change and to have an impact, so thank you all for being part of this and for being here today,” he said.
The project, in which a 61ft by 26ft mural will be installed on the Nolan Block wall facing the corner of Genesee and North streets, is organized by the Harriet Tubman Boosters, who educate people about the famous former resident of the town. . The booster group raised funds for the $40,000 cost of the venture.
Booster Group board member Laurel Ullyette recently said the organization is about 80% toward that overall goal following a recent grant of $8,475 from the Cayuga Community Foundation, with $7,000 remaining. . A raffle at the Strawberry Social supports the project, while other promotions also aim to raise funds.
“It’s so rewarding. It makes us so proud. I’m so proud of the kids, of what they are capable of,” Ullyette said. “The art of music really involves the kids. They study Harriet during the school year, and then they put her together, writing this original song.”
Josh Thomas and Christina Deuel were at the event to see their daughter Alexis Thomas perform, noting they had never been to the heritage center until Saturday. Deuel said Alexis took a trip to the center about a month ago and had a great time. Deuel called the event “incredible” and added that she recently learned of Tubman’s birthday.
“It’s great to be remembered for what Harriet Tubman did for everyone, and I’m glad my daughter was a part of that,” Josh said.
Managing Editor Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.