Newark will celebrate its own musical history at its Founders Weekend Festival, a free event that takes place this weekend in the city’s Military Park. The long-lived Newark Boys Chorus will perform, as will hip-hop chart-toppers Naughty by Nature (from nearby East Orange), and jazz musicians will pay tribute to the legendary Sarah Vaughan, who launched her career by performing in Newark nightclubs in the 1930s.
One of the musicians representing the city’s vibrant gospel scene will be Cissy Houston, a pillar of that scene since the 1950s. “I think it’s a great thing for Newark,” says Houston, of the festival.
“I was born in Newark, at the city hospital,” she adds, with pride. “I grew up in Newark, went to school in Newark. I grew up in a great home.”
She still lives in Newark, too, having recently moved back there from Edgewater.
The mother of Whitney Houston and the aunt of Dionne Warwick, Houston, 82, rose to fame as a member of the Drinkard Singers and then the Sweet Inspirations, who backed artists such as Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin and had a Top 20 hit of their own, “Sweet Inspiration,” in 1968. Houston served for more than 50 years as minister of music at Newark’s New Hope Baptist Church, and still sings at the city’s annual McDonald’s Gospelfest at the Prudential Center; she appeared there, her voice resonating as powerfully as ever, just this past weekend.
She also recently opened her own Dr. Cissy Houston Academy in Newark, to teach aspiring artists, in their teens and 20s, about singing, as well as the music business.
Of course, there was a lot of teaching involved in her work as a music minister. “All of that was teaching, and setting up all kinds of things,” she says. “I did that since I was 15, 16 years old.”
She stopped, she said, “because I was older, and traveling, and I couldn’t respond to all of the things that I had to. I did it so long, I guess I could miss it, but I don’t, because I’m doing so many other things.”
At the Founders Weekend Festival, she will appear as a guest singer during the 4 p.m. Sunday set by the Jubilation Choir, which started out in 1998, under the direction of the Rev. Stefanie R. Minatee, as the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s official choir, before becoming independent. “I’ve known Stefanie all my life,” says Houston. “We’re really old friends.”
Houston appeared on the choir’s 2002 album, “Spirit.” She says she will sing the same song she sang on that album, the hymn “Every Day, Every Hour,” on Sunday.
When Houston sings about perseverance, and faith, there’s an extra level of poignancy, since few gospel singers have suffered so much, so publicly. Whitney Houston died four years ago, and Whitney’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, less than a year ago.
In 2013, Cissy Houston published a memoir about her relationship with her daughter, titled “Remembering Whitney: My Story of Love, Loss, and the Night the Music Stopped.” In it, she wrote about the “seemingly endless blur of grief and pain” that followed Whitney’s 2012 death.
“There were times when I didn’t think I could live through the despair of losing my baby girl,” she wrote. “I just couldn’t believe I would never see her, or hear her voice, in this world again. I still can’t believe it.”
Founders Weekend Festival schedule
Cissy Houston will be one of the performers at the free, outdoor Founders Weekend Festival, which is part of Newark Celebration 350 – a yearlong series of events commemorating the 350th anniversary of the city’s founding.
The festival takes place at Military Park, which is located near New Jersey Performing Arts Center, at 51 Park Place.
There will be two stages, as well as art displays, children’s activities, a community expo and food trucks.
For information, visit nc350.org/founders-weekend-festival. Here is the schedule:
6 p.m.: Brick City Collective
7 p.m.: Faith Evans
8:30 p.m.: DJ Felix Hernandez
1 p.m.: Parade with Malcolm X Shabazz Marching Band
1:30 p.m.: Angela Johnson
2:45 p.m.: Random Test Reggae Band
4 p.m.: The Airmen of Note, with Stefon Harris
5:30 p.m.: Robert Glasper Experiment
7 p.m.: Naughty by Nature
8:30 p.m.: DJ Bobby Trends
1 p.m.: Them Cloud Kids: Epiphany & YB the Brand
2 p.m.: Newark Boys Chorus
3 p.m.: Jazz House Kids
4 p.m.: Alexis Morrast Trio
5 p.m.: Wells Fargo Jazz for Teens: “The Soul of Newark”
1 p.m.: Sarah Vaughan Tribute
2:30 p.m.: Rob Paparozzi
4 p.m.: Jubilation Choir with Cissy Houston
5:30 p.m.: India
7 p.m.: DJ Reymo
1 p.m.: Grupo Liberdade de Capoeira
1:30 p.m.: Them Cloud Kids: Leah Jenea
2 p.m.: Charger Rock Alliance
3 p.m.: Them Cloud Kids: Shane Fuller and Leigh Soriano
4 p.m.: Brick City Jazz Orchestra: Tribute to Sarah Vaughan