WATCH | Scotiabank Backbeat presents: Khari Wendell McClelland’s Freedom Singer

February 25, 2020

On February 8, National Music Centre (NMC) welcomed Vancouver artist Khari Wendell McClelland to present songs from his acclaimed album, Freedom Singer, in recognition of Black History Month. McLelland is joined by JUNO nominee and for NMC Artist in Residence Tanika Charles.

The Freedom Singer album is a culmination of a research project that started for Khari over two years ago, when he met the Governor General awarded writer Karolyn Smardz Frost. Through reading her work he was sparked by the childhood stories of his great-great-great-grandmother Kizzy who escaped US slavery through the Underground Railroad coming into Canada in the mid-1800s. This prompted Khari to start a journey of researching the songs that might have accompanied her on her journey and the family history surrounding her. Freedom Singer is a true celebration of black history, the album is a collection of rare and forgotten songs that McClelland interprets through the many styles and genres that helped to shape him. Using folk, gospel, country, hip hop and soul to reinvigorate these songs and build a bridge from the 1800s to the present.

Khari Wendell McClelland is a diversly talented and ever-evolving artist. Originally from Detroit, Khari has become a darling on the Canadian music scene with reviewers lauding his performances as a clever mix of soul and gospel. Khari’s songwriting crosses genres and generations, joyfully invoking the spirit of his ancestors who straddled the US-Canadian border in efforts to escape slavery and discrimination. His music draws from this rich history, integrating the rhythms and folklore of early African-Americans with contemporary sounds and stories of struggle. Khari also performs with the roots-gospel group The Sojourners. Whether on stage or in the studio, Khari’s passion for community, equality and justice is palpable, as is his belief in the redemptive power of music.

This program was presented as a part of Scotiabank Backbeat, regular weekend activations for families, children, and general visitors of all ages, including pop-up music performances, hands-on activities, presentations from community partners, and more. To see upcoming events, visit our website

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