campus news & events

Storyteller, Singer Charlotte Blake Alston Brings African and African-American Cultures, Oral Traditions to Performance at Colby-Sawyer

NEW LONDON, N.H. — Philadelphia-based storyteller, narrator and singer Charlotte Blake Alston will bring traditional and contemporary African and African-American oral and cultural traditions to life through stories and songs in her upcoming solo performance at Colby-Sawyer College.

The event, “Tell the Stories so That They May Know,” featuring Charlotte Blake Alston, is part of the college's observance of Black History Month and will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 28, at 7 p.m., in Wheeler Hall at the Ware Campus Center. Everyone is welcome to attend and admission is free.

Blake Alston's interest in literature, oral traditions and the arts began in childhood when her father read the work of writers and poets to her and encouraged her to learn and recite the dialect poems of African-American poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar. After 21 years of teaching from the preschool through graduate levels, she chose to devote more time to touring and performing.

Blake Alston's solo performances of stories and songs are often enhanced with traditional instruments such as djembe, berimbau, nkoning, mbira, shekere or the 21-stringed kora. In 1999, she began studying the kora and the West African history-telling traditions of Senegal, Mali, Guinea and Guinea Bissau, taught by the highly respected Senegalese griot (jali), Djimo Kouyate.

Howard Bass of the Smithsonian Institution described Blake Alston in a recent performance there as having a “commanding stage presence” and “beautifully controlled and melodious voice...” He said she is a superb performer who made a huge impression on everyone, and that “her selection of stories suited each audience perfectly, and her telling was absolutely first-rate.” Of her performances at Minnesota's Arrowhead Community Colleges, Anne Erickson said, “Charlotte has a solid, grand and yet accessible stage presence and tells some of the most moving, vivid, entertaining and funny stories. (Her) work is educational and issue-oriented… She is a strong and articulate role model and a knowledgeable and compassionate teacher.”

Blake Alston brings her stories and songs to national and regional festivals, schools, universities, museums, libraries and performing arts centers throughout the United States and Canada, as well as to local and national radio and television. She has been a featured teller at the National Storytelling Festival, the National Festival of Black Storytelling, and at regional festivals throughout North America. She has been a featured artist at both the Presidential Inaugural Festivities in Washington, D.C., and the Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Children's Inaugural Celebrations in Harrisburg, Penn. She was the first storyteller to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra on both their Children's and Youth concert series.

Since 1994, she has been the host of “Sound All Around,” the orchestra's preschool concert series, and she continues to appear as a guest host and narrator on family concerts. She also hosts “Carnegie Kids,” a Carnegie Hall concert series, and has been a featured artist on the Carnegie Hall Family Concert Series in New York since 1996.

Her narrative voice can be heard on documentaries including “Plenty of Good Women Dancers,” “The Peddie School” and “Crosstown.” She was featured in the award-winning documentary “Family Name” that aired around the country on PBS. Kinocraft Media Productions converted her “Martin Luther King Jr. Storypoem” to video format for educational distribution. The video is entitled “A Closer Look: Martin Luther King Jr.” She is a regular guest reader on WNYC New York's “Prime time with PJ.”

Blake Alston was one of four Americans selected to perform and present at the first International Storytelling Field Conference in Ghana in August 1999. She was also the director of “In the Tradition,” the 14th National Festival of Black Storytelling in 1996 and received the prestigious Pew Fellowship in the Arts in 1994.

To learn more about Blake Alston, visit her web site at The “Tell the Stories so That They May Know” event is sponsored by Colby-Sawyer College's Cultural Events Committee. For information about other public events at Colby-Sawyer, visit

-Kimberly Swick Slover

Colby-Sawyer, founded in 1837, is a comprehensive liberal arts college located in the scenic Lake Sunapee Region of central New Hampshire. Students from 25 states and five foreign countries learn in small classes through a select array of programs that integrate the liberal arts and sciences with pre-professional experience. Visit us on the World Wide Web at

Colby-Sawyer College, 541 Main Street, New London, N.H. 03257 (603) 526-3000