Hallelujah! Swing School empowers students by honoring the past

Elijah Waddell Hallelujah Swing School! Hillside High School

Elijah Waddell practices during rehearsal at Hillside High School Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. (Staff Photo by Landon Bost)

Hillside High School’s “Hallelujah! Swing School” returns for the second consecutive year for Valentine’s weekend in honor of John Henry Gattis’ “Mr. G’s Swing School.” The production honors the past and inspires the next generation of leaders from Durham.

The play is produced and directed by the esteemed Hillside drama teacher Wendell Tabb, who has taught at Hillside for 33 years. “Hallelujah! Swing School” is a review about historical figures from Hillside, Durham and North Carolina through popular music and songs throughout the decades.

“So, for example,” Tabb said, “if we’re talking about – let’s say – the band, then we can also highlight our music from Grady Tate, who was also a Hillside graduate and a famous drummer. so that music could be also played during that particular time as we highlight the band, music – here’s a person that went on to do great things. So, the type of play we’re doing I would call it a review in a sense that we’re able to mix music with history.”

Hillside senior Ethan Guilliame is acting in the play for his second year. He loves playing the roles, but also learning the history, just as much which has given him a new perspective.

“It just makes me respect North Carolina even more,” Guillaume. “Because a lot of people like to say, ‘Oh! You’re from North Carolina.’ But I’m actually proud from where I’m at, especially right here in Durham. … It makes me even more proud that black people In North Carolina have really made a difference in the world, and it’s going to really inspire me to do the same as well with my acting when I get out of high school. This whole play just inspires me.”

According to Tiffany Agerston, the vocal director, the most important character in the play is Ms. Brown, and it’s always “a special selection.” 2019 National Alumni Association of Hillside Hall of Fame Inductee Claudine Daye Lewis ’61 played Ms. Brown in Mr. G’s Swing School. Hillside junior and drama club president Kaia Brown is playing the role of Ms. Brown for her second consecutive year, and she met former alums who played Ms. Browns last year.

“They often come up to me and say, ‘Hey Mrs. Brown!’,” Brown said, “and they complimented me that I was doing a really good job. … It made me feel really good, because being a third-generation Hillside student, so my family has been in it or has been around it. So just getting that props of doing a great job playing this historical role felt really good.”

J.D. Clement Early College junior Naseyah Williams is the stage manager and plays DJ in the plays. The show opens Friday, Feb. 14, at 7:15 p.m.; followed with performances Saturday, Feb. 15 at 3:15 and 7:15 p.m; and Sunday, Feb. 16, at 3:15.

“I’m very excited,” Williams said, “just not only for the students that are coming here to learn more about their history, but I’m excited of what they can take from it, because it’s not just history. There’s a future, because if we know that people who look like us from right here where we are have done these things, then it will push us to go out there and do it as well. So, I’m excited for the impact that this play is going to have.”

Tickets can be found in this link.