Since I was a small child, I can remember the excitement of riding in the backseat of my Mama’s car on the I-610 freeway and passing by the stadium seeing the RodeoHouston carnival rides being assembled in late February. The carnival rides, rodeo food, petting zoo and especially the Black Heritage performances were some of the highlights of my childhood, as we would attend the rodeo faithfully, every year.
I’ve witnessed performances by Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, Earth, Wind & Fire, Frankie Beverly & Maze, Janet Jackson; and even then-newcomers like Alicia Keys and Beyoncé. We attended various shows every year (country artists, Tejano artists, pop artists, etc.); but the Black Heritage Day performances have always given me a sense of pride on what my family and I would call ‘Our Night’.
‘Our Night’ was an evening for all of my family, friends and community to witness Black History. My family and I would sit in the press box every year with other members of media. The press box is normally a reserved space where journalists can jot down notes and either quietly peer down at the artist through the fish tank-like glass; or fixate their eyes on the many TV monitors which decorate the area. For as long as I can remember, on Black Heritage night, everyone (black, brown, and white alike) would be tuned into the show while singing along or line dancing in the aisles of the press box.
This year, as we made our way to the arena to select the tickets that we preferred, I noticed that this was the first time that my entire team did not select Black Heritage Day tickets by default. Everyone awkwardly glanced through the performance roster and when we saw that Jason Derulo would take the stage for Black Heritage Day, people began asking variations of “Who is that?”
I understand that Derulo has sold more than 50 million singles and clocked 2 billion YouTube views. In fact, his most popular clip, “Wiggle,” has almost 700 million views. He has also toured with Lady Gaga and The Black Eyed Peas. Critics, however, say the night should be used to showcase artists who appeal to a larger and older African American audience. And with only two of Derulo’s songs (“Wiggle” and “Talk Dirty”) showing up on Billboard’s R&B charts, I would have to agree. Black Heritage Day is normally reminiscent of a family day for African American concertgoers at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. It is a day in which children, parents and grandparents alike can come together and be entertained by a performer whose hit songs span generations.
On Friday, March 4th, I decided to attend the Black Heritage Day show anyway. I had high hopes and decided to put my judgment aside. Upon arriving, I immediately noticed the absence of black faces in the crowd; which was mind-boggling, seeing that this was Black Heritage Day. Derulo brought some of his biggest hits to RodeoHouston; but his underwhelming performance left much to be desired.
It is apparent that the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s selection of Jason Derulo as the headline performer for Black Heritage Day was an attempt at appealing to a broader audience; but this seemingly strips Black Heritage Day of what it has always represented. Though Derulo boasts an arsenal of hit records, he simply was not the best choice to properly reflect what Black Heritage Day means to Black Houston ― which is a tribute and homage to Black history and Black excellence.
Here’s to hoping that the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo will #BringBackBlackHeritageDay in the future by selecting artists whose legacies and careers actually depict what that night was originally intended to represent.