Cast and crew of “The Quilt” film speak during a Q&A session following the screening premiere. © 2023 Robert Michaelson

“The Quilt: A Living History of African American Music”, an educational documentary produced by Musical Bridges Around the World, had a full house for its red carpet premiere at the Jo Long Theatre of the Carver Community Cultural Center. The venue is also the same location where all of the onscreen dialogue and some of the film’s musical performances were filmed, with the rest being captured at Texas Public Radio’s Malú and Carlos Alvarez Theater & Studio.

Community is a big part of what made “The Quilt” possible. Besides a slew of local musical artists hired to participate, financial and in-kind support came through H-E-B, the Carver, Texas Public Radio, Digital Pro Lab, the San Antonio African American Community Archive & Museum, the African Quilt Circle of San Antonio, as well as multiple charitable foundations and individuals.

MBAW CEO Anya Grokhovski with mezzo-soprano Veronica Williams, who sang gospel and negro spirituals in the film.

Following the screening, members of the cast and crew answered questions about the film and their involvement. “These musicians, they just got out there and delivered on their first take,” said the film’s director Julya Jara, motioning to the musician cast onstage. “Over 20 performance acts in one filming day, and we were grateful to be there to just to catch it all.” Jara is correct, as almost all of the performing acts in the film were shot in a single day at TPR’s studio. The same with dialogue at Carver, with lead actresses Cynthia Freeman Gibbs and niece Lauren Anya Jwahir Hunter moving through the twelve scenes of the film in just one day. Cynthia is also the screenwriter and who made this film a possibility from Musical Bridges Around the World’s initial request for help to write something about African American music.

Just a small request for a short script for an educational curriculum segment in MBAW’s Musical Sprouts program was all it was, but Gibbs came back with what was essentially a full screenplay. So when CEO Anya Grokhovski and then-Development Director Julya Jara took a look at it, it was too perfect an opportunity to pass by. There could be a resource created just in the same vein as Ken Burns documentaries, but digestible and fun for young school students. 

These are just some of the recollections brought up during the Q&A discussion that expanded upon what viewers had just experienced. After this, an ending reception was held in the lobby with food and drinks, more red carpet photos, and a wonderful sense of community and celebration.

Quilt Director Julya Jara, screenwriter/actress Cynthia Freeman Gibbs, friend, and actress Lauren Anya Jwahir Hunter (far right).