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Basic Black; Ann Hobson Pilot: A Musical Journey


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Basic Black
Ann Hobson Pilot: A Musical Journey
Series Description

THe series was formerly known as Say Brother. Series title change as of 1/8/1998. This series is black produced and is one of public television's longest-running series that is rooted in and reflects the culture, concerns, achievements and history of people of African descent. Also includes controversial issues, African American artists, and events of special interest to the African American community.

Series release date: 1/8/1998

Program Description

In February of 1997, Boston Symphony Orchestra principal harpist Ann Hobson Pilot traveled to South Africa to perform as a soloist with the National Symphony of Johannesburg—a performance that, for a black artist like her, would have been unthinkable in the days of apartheid.

Pilot is one of the most celebrated harpists in the world, but her career in music has been marked by breaking many color barriers. She recalls being the only black girl at the prestigious harp camp she attended in Maine, facing racism while traveling through the south with the National Symphony in the 1960s, being only the second African American musician to join the Boston Symphony Orchestra when Arthur Fiedler recruited her almost 30 years ago. Even now, she is one of only two black musicians in the BSO.

As she prepares for her concert in South Africa, Pilot wonders how the white South African audience will receive her. She has chosen to play Ennanga, a piece by African American composer William Grant Still that is named after the Ugandan harp. "The piece has always meant a lot to me," she says. "Now I have a chance to bring it back to the continent that inspired it."

After a moving performance, Pilot and her husband travel to the bush of Namibia for the second part of their journey—their search for the roots of the harp. There, Pilot meets bushmen whose lifestyle has remained largely unchanged for centuries. Under a giant baobab tree, the bushmen play their five-stringed harp, called oaci, for the Pilots.

"It’s amazing to me that here we are looking at this tiny instrument they play, with five strings rolled around a tin can, and I play this large, 47-string instrument with seven foot pedals," says Pilot, showing the delighted bushmen a video of her performance on the camcorder monitor. "But it evokes the same kind of spirit for them as their music does."

"I had come to find the origins of the harp, but I found much more," says Pilot. "I found the music of this part of Africa, and a life rhythm I would never forget."

Asset Type

Broadcast program

Media Type


Race and Ethnicity
Social Issues
Chicago: “Basic Black; Ann Hobson Pilot: A Musical Journey,” 12/17/1998, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed December 19, 2018, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_D421951DF44841098FB6E49799067104.
MLA: “Basic Black; Ann Hobson Pilot: A Musical Journey.” 12/17/1998. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. December 19, 2018. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_D421951DF44841098FB6E49799067104>.
APA: Basic Black; Ann Hobson Pilot: A Musical Journey. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_D421951DF44841098FB6E49799067104
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