This Cultural Olympiad story was produced in partnership with ArtsATL as part of "Atlanta Remembers: The 1996 Olympics," WABE's series on the impact of the 1996 Summer Olympics on Atlanta, 20 years later. For more stories, click here.
Atlanta playwright Pearl Cleage’s "Blues for an Alabama Sky" has been called a masterpiece and is her most-performed play.
Set during the middle of the Depression and at the end of the Harlem Renaissance, the play was selected as one of productions to be performed during the four-year Cultural Olympiad, the artistic lead-up to the Atlanta Olympic Games. Originally commissioned by theater master Kenny Leon for the Alliance Theatre, Cleage only had one concern for its inclusion in the Olympiad:
“My concern was whether international audiences would know what the Harlem Renaissance was,” Cleage said. “But that was me just underestimating the audience and underestimating the Harlem Renaissance. The subject matter is something people can deal with all over the world.”
Cleage fondly remembered that time in Atlanta, when thousands of international visitors came to the city.
“I came home one day, and there was house full of Brazilian people,” Cleage remembered. “They didn’t speak English, we don’t speak Portuguese, so we were listening to music and talking with our hands ... It was a time when things like that would happen. So to have the play be part of that and to encourage that conversation among people was really a great gift for me.”