Music Festival to Celebrate Newark’s 350-Year History

The rapper Dupré Kelly has had plenty of triumphs in his career, but the 45-year-old never thought that hosting a music festival in Newark, his hometown, would be one of them.

“When I was growing up in the West Ward of Newark, I didn’t think I’d make it to 21,” Mr. Kelly, the frontman of the group Lords of the Underground, said. He is also among the organizers of this year’s Lincoln Park Music Festival, to be held July 29 through July 31.

Mr. Kelly said that the West Ward was once tied with the South Ward as the city’s most violent neighborhood. Now, he said, things there seem more hopeful, and cultural programming is one reason. The city’s five wards are participating in a yearlong series of concerts, art exhibitions, tours, talks and public performances, all of which celebrate New Jersey’s largest city.

Newark Celebration 350, as the event is known, will commemorate the 350th anniversary of the city’s founding. Its 190 events, with more expected to be added, have already included a founder’s weekend festival in May that brought a crowd of 10,000 to see performers like Naughty by Nature and Faith Evans. Upcoming events include an Ecuadorean Festival, a talk about Newark’s infamous 1967 rebellion and a garden tour.

The Lincoln Park Music Festival, which is expected to be well attended, is part of the celebration. Last year’s version, drew 50,000 visitors to the city’s Central Ward over its three-day run, and this year’s crowd is expected to top 60,000, Anthony Smith, the music festival’s executive director, said.

“There is culture in this city at all levels and from all corners,” Mr. Smith said at a June event called “Music Speaks: Rock the Block” that included a Central Ward cleanup and the unveiling of a freshly painted mural on an abandoned building. “Instead of working in separate silos, we want to cohere,” he added. “We’re all one city, and we want people to know they can come here and have many different kinds of experiences, all of them good.”

Past hometown performers at the festival have included the rappers Redman and Rah Digga, and the late jazz saxophonist James Moody. This year promises more of the same, with a blend of local stars and visitors: Friday is jazz and gospel day, featuring singers Cissy Houston and Vickie Winans, and trumpeter Tom Browne. Ann Nesby, former leader of the group Sounds of Blackness, is scheduled to be among the draws during house music day on Saturday. Hip-hop and dance will take center stage Sunday with performances by the choreographer and Newark native Savion Glover, as well as rappers like Jenjer Ricci and Samad Savage.

Fans of the festival include Mayor Ras J. Baraka, who attended the Rock the Block event for the mural’s unveiling. “I haven’t missed a year” of the festival, Mr. Baraka, a Democrat, said as he gazed at a mural that depicts a giant eye looking down on two children reading books and dreaming skyward. The message, as interpreted by Mr. Baraka: Culture bubbles up.

John Schreiber, president and chief executive of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark and programming chair of the festival, said one of the goals of the celebration is to get city residents moving across wards.

“A lot of people stay within their ward,” Mr. Schreiber said. “So we thought, wouldn’t it be great if, for example, people from the West Ward are going to go to the Portuguese celebration in the East Ward, and there’s cross-pollination?”

Dr. Clement Price, the festival’s initial organizer and a beloved history professor at Rutgers University, died in 2014 before he could make known the details for the grand celebration he had visualized. But Junius Williams, a colleague of Dr. Price’s who took over as festival chairman, said he would have approved of the commingling.

“Before he died we picked up on his idea that every 50 years we should do something bigger and better than the celebration 50 years before,” Mr. Williams said of Dr. Price’s vision for Newark. Mr. Williams, 72, remembers Newark’s 300th anniversary, and he said he knew just what needed to happen to make this anniversary different.

“I made it a goal to see that this process grows from the neighborhood up, not just from the top down,” he said. “So, when we first started organizing a little more than a year ago, we invited people from all walks of life in this city to tell us their ideas.”

Organizers and participants also wanted a chance to distance themselves from the fiery upheaval of a half-century ago.

“This city has grown since 1967,” Mr. Williams said, referring to the year of rioting that resulted in 26 deaths. “That reputation has been laid upon Newark for so many years. But people need to see that that’s not the same set of problems we wrestle with today. There are heroes and sheroes in every community, and we’re bringing them out so people can hear from them.”

Those heroes, Mr. Williams said, include Mr. Kelly, host of the Lincoln Park Music Festival.

“This is a turning point in our history,” Mr. Kelly said. “We’re becoming an eclectic, arty kind of place. We’ve got that vibe now, almost like Brooklyn. And I’m happy to be here.”

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