When news first broke regarding the Juneteenth: Global Celebration at the Hollywood Bowl, it was an unforgettable announcement for a few reasons. First, fans—in-person and streaming at home via CNN—would be able to witness performances by Earth, Wind, & Fire, Mary Mary, Billy Porter, The Roots, Lucky Daye, Anthony Hamilton, and more. Secondly, this would be the first time an all-Black orchestra would be performing at the Hollywood Bowl in its 100-year history.
Co-spearheading the Recollective Orchestra, alongside Questlove and Adam Blackstone, was composer and esteemed musical director Derrick Hodge—a riveting talent who’s worked with the likes of Common, Maxwell, Robert Glasper, H.E.R., and most of the neo-soul artists who comprised the movement out of Philly in the early 2000s.
VIBE had the pleasure of speaking with Hodge after the festivities to get the perspective of the celebration through his lens.
“It was like a movie,” he joked at the beginning of our call. “Throughout my creative journey, the sound of orchestra is something I’ve always loved. The sound of music, all of that and I knew there weren’t a lot of people that look like me doing it, so I wasn’t waiting for the opportunity to come, so I just started writing.”
“I just started creating, even before I ever had a chance to have the music heard,” Hodge explained about how the opportunity to conduct the orchestra presented itself.
When he began working with Nas to celebrate Illmatic, live from the Kennedy Center, that set the foundation to build a relationship with the LA Philharmonic. In 2021, he arranged countless performances including H.E.R. and Black Panther in Concert.
Hodge, a Philly native, was a student at Temple University and gave up his first major tour with Jill Scott to continue his studies as a Jazz Performance major. Scott encouraged him though, with words he still holds close to him. He recalled, “I’ll never forget, I made the decision to go back to school just to pursue, to keep learning and keep remaining curious. Jill, the humanity of that amazing, beautiful soul, said, ‘Derek, I love you. Do you. You amaze, and you know, trust your voice no matter what, trust it and I celebrate you.'”
When it came time to create the arrangements for “You Got Me,” he remembered Jill’s words (In fact, The Roots performed the song during Sunday night’s show).
Hodge went on to become the first African American jazz major to play in the orchestra at his university. As this new first came about with the Recollective Orchestra, Hodge ultimately felt “gratitude” for the historic moment.
“For me to be trusted to represent the voices of these amazing souls—It wasn’t just an all-Black orchestra up there, it was the players that had put their blood, sweat, and tears to becoming the top at their positions for major symphonies all over the country. And they took their time to come out and be a part. Knowing that sacrifice everybody made, it just meant something different, for me to know that I was being entrusted with helping tell their story and the story of the people, just meant something different,” he shared.
Hodge’s biggest challenge was his sleepless nights as he created new arrangements with a drastically tight turnaround. “Those sleepless nights for the culture was worth it,” he expressed. But, the reward was seeing music lovers in the crowd on Sunday night, cheering him and the entire orchestra on. It was a priceless moment for him as he praised the synergy and “spirit of infectious selflessness.”
From his standpoint, we mutually agreed that it felt as though he was providing the sounds for a massive Black family reunion, and that connection for him and his team just hit different.
Check out highlights from the Juneteenth: Global Celebration below and watch the recap via CNNgo.