"Commanding stage presence, Beautifully controlled and melodious voice...made a huge impression on everyone...Her selection of stories suited each audience perfectly, and her telling was absolutely first-rate. The feedback from the teachers who attended her workshop was overwhelmingly positive. Charlotte is a delightful person and a joy to work with...A superb performer."
- Howard Bass, Smithsonian Institution


Biography


Photo: Debbie Boardman

CHARLOTTE BLAKE ALSTON
Master Storyteller, Narrator, and Singer

Charlotte Blake Alston is a storyteller, narrator, librettist, instrumentalist and singer who performs in venues throughout North America and abroad. Venues are wide and include the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Smithsonian Institution, the Kimmel Center, the Women of the World Festival in Cape Town, South Africa, prisons, detention centers and a refugee camp in northern Senegal.

She breathes life into traditional and contemporary stories from African and African American oral and cultural traditions. Her solo performances are often enhanced with traditional instruments such as djembe, mbira, shekere or the 21-stringed kora. In 1999, Charlotte began studying the kora and the West African history-telling traditions of Senegal, Mali, Guinea and Guinea Bissau. Her teacher was the highly respected Senegalese griot (jali), the late Djimo Kouyate. She has recently resumed her studies with Malian Virtuoso Yacouba Sissoko.

She brings her stories and songs to national and regional festivals, schools, universities, museums, libraries and performing arts centers throughout the United States and Canada, as well as local and national radio and television. Her repertoire is wide and programs are adapted to any grade level or age group.

In 1991, Charlotte became the first storyteller to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra on both their Family and Student concert series. Since 1994, she has been the host of "Sound All Around"; the orchestra's preschool concert series and continues to appear as a guest host and narrator on family concerts. For 6 seasons, Charlotte hosted "Carnegie Kids", Carnegie Hall's Preschool concert series and has been a featured artist on the Carnegie Hall Family Concert Series in NY since 1996. She has been a featured teller at The National Storytelling Festival, The National Festival of Black Storytelling, and at regional festivals throughout North America and abroad. She has been a featured artist at both the Presidential Inaugural Festivities in Washington, DC and the Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Children's Inaugural Celebrations in Harrisburg, PA. In addition to her solo performances, Charlotte performs with her brother, world-renowned jazz violinist, John Blake, Jr. and his band in Tellin' On The Downbeat: A Program of Storytelling and Jazz. In Fiddlin' With Stories, Charlotte and John perform as a duo featuring violin and kora, in a program that celebrates the role of stringed instruments in African and African American culture. She has collaborated with numerous instrumental ensembles as well the Opera Company of Philadelphia, Opera North and the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company. She has been a featured narrator for several orchestras and conductors including The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Orchestra of St. Luke's, The Cleveland Orchestra, the Saint Louis Symphony, the Orpheus Chamber Ensemble and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. She represented Carnegie Hall in 2003 when she hosted a series of concerts in Miyazaki, Japan with the Eddie Arron String Quartet and fellow storyteller, Motoko. Currently, she performs as both pre-concert artist and host of Carnegie Hall's Family and Education Concert Series. In addition, she previously served as a host for Carnegie Hall's Community Sing-Ins.

Charlotte's narrative voice can be heard on documentaries including Plenty of Good Women Dancers, The Peddie School, and Crosstown. In the PBS documentary Safe Harbor, producers proclaim her "strong, steady voice is like a lantern in the darkness". She has narrated two shows at the Franklin Institute's Fels Planetarium - Under African Skies and Stars of Wonder. She herself was featured in the award-winning documentary Family Name that aired around the country on PBS. Kinocraft Media Productions converted her "Martin Luther King Storypoem" to video format for educational distribution. She is the narrative voice for a series of training videos produced by Global Media Health

Ms. Alston has produced several commissioned works for orchestras and opera companies including original narrative texts for Carnival of the Animals and Scherezade. More recently she has been engaged as a librettist for The Philadelphia Orchestra and The Commonwealth Youthchoirs. Andrea Clearfield, Kabo Omowale: Welcome Home Child with composer Andrea Clearfield and The Good Raised Up with composer John Blake, Jr.

She was commissioned by the Huntingdon County Arts Council to craft and tell the story of the African American community of Mount Union, Pennsylvania which included a residency and performances for school and public audiences.

Charlotte has received numerous honors including the prestigious Pew Fellowship in the Arts. She was selected as Philadelphia Magazine's "Best of Philly" and was the recipient of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Artist Of The Year Award (The Hazlett Memorial Award), which recognizes individual artists "for excellence in the Commonwealth." She holds two honorary PhDs and received the Circle of Excellence Award from the National Storytelling Association.

Charlotte was one of four Americans selected to perform and present at the first International Storytelling Field Conference in Ghana and was a featured artist at the Second Int'l Festival in Cape Town, South Africa. In the summer of 2005, she was the sole American selected to perform on a main stage at the STIMMEN: Voices Festival in Basel, Switzerland and The Cape Clear Island Festival in Ireland. In 1996, she was the Director of "In the Tradition..." the 14th National Festival of Black Storytelling. She is a recipient of the Zora Neale Hurston Award, the highest award bestowed by the National Association of Black Storytellers.

You can also hear her stories by downloading The Tales 2 Go application for the iPhone.