John Payne (Heart & Lung-bass/vocals)
SPB:I hear you work closely with Karamu House. Tell us a bit about how you got involved and what it means to you, personally.
Payne: Karamu House is the oldest Black theater in the country, and virtually no one in Cleveland has ever heard of it! I most definitely hadn’t until I started teaching at a school around the corner from it about 7 years ago. A bunch of my students attended Karamu’s afterschool program, and they invited us to tons of brilliant performances. If you want to get punched real hard right in your feelings, watch their “Freedom on Juneteenth” production and grab some tissue and a bottle of bourbon. While the rest of the nation was just learning about Juneteenth, Karamu was ready to go with a phenomenal piece of art.
They’ve been doing that for more than 100 years in the most segregated city in America. Our last full-length has a song called “1954” that addresses the long legacy of systemic racism in our hometown. Folks in Cleveland have never heard of Karamu House exclusively because it’s in a Black neighborhood called Fairfax. It’s fucking tragic and altogether appropriate that this powerhouse of an institution has gone ignored for this long. As Langston Hughes said in 1961, “It is a cultural shame that a great country like America...has no primarily serious colored theatre. Karamu is the very nearest thing to it.” We’re fucking ecstatic and proud to lift up Karamu House every chance we can. They’ve been doing the work this nation needs for a century.