Photo provided

Nicole Cabell. Provided

“Mandela: The Journey to Ubuntu” commemorates the life and legacy of former South African President Nelson Mandela through photographs by Matthew Willman as he revisited many of the locations that had played an important role in South Africa’s route to racial equality and Mandela’s personal fight for freedom.

The exhibit opened in March at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, and it features photographs by Mandela’s personal South African documentary photographer Matthew Willman.

Willman spoke at the opening reception of the exhibit on March 24. He was commissioned by the Nelson Mandela Foundation during the last 10 years of Nelson Mandela’s life.

“This is the first exhibition created since Mandela passed away, which makes us custodians of Mandela’s legacy,” says Willman. “Mandela is a bench mark for all of us to go further, reach higher, transcend divides, and open up dialogue. This exhibit reveals the story of an ordinary man who made personal choices that in the end changed the course of an entire nation’s future.”

“Mandela: The Journey to Ubuntu,” a world-premiere exhibition, commemorates the life and legacy of former South African President Nelson Mandela through photographs by Willman as he revisited many of the locations that had played an important role in South Africa’s route to racial equality and Mandela’s personal fight for freedom. Visitors travel throughout South Africa with Mandela via Willman’s camera lens: Mvezo Village, Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Robben Island.

“I first met Matthew in 2014 when we awarded Nelson Mandela with the International Freedom Conductor Award posthumously,” says President Dr. Clarence G. Newsome. “The relationship between Matthew and our talented team here at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has blossomed over the years and truly made this exhibit a one-of-a-kind experience. This young man has so much to offer and I know all who attend the opening will be inspired by his photographs.

Willman, described Mandela as a “very peaceful man in the way he dealt with the issues in his life. He had his enemies, but he won them over with love.’’

Willman was 24 years old when he was commissioned by the foundation, and he remained in the position until Mandela died 11 years later. He did attend Mandela’s funeral and or visited Mandela’s grave, as home lives about 800 miles away, he said.

However, he said Mandela was a grandfather figure for him. I loved him. Now, how can I take his message of love forward?’’ he said. “They loved him. He could gather together thousands in no time at events.’’

Mandela displayed both humor and sadness, Willman said. “He loved to make jokes, but he also cried about abandoning his family for the freedom he brought to his people.

“For apartheid broke apart the very fabric of our society using the barriers of race and gender to isolate and divide,’’ Willman said. “It created an inferiority complex that even today, we as a country are still working to overcome. Yet, it is this ‘Spirit of Ubuntu’ that exists within all Africans who choose every day to aspire to the highest ideals that this man, Nelson Mandela, laid out for us to achieve, and to realize our inter-connectedness and our responsibility to each other.’’

 “The Mandela: The Journey to Ubuntu” presenting sponsors are John and Francie Pepper, Macy’s, and The John A. Schroth Family Charitable Trust, PNC Bank, Trustee. Supporting sponsors include ArtsWave and Cincinnati Bell. Community partners include Northern Kentucky University’s Public History Department and Gleason Builders. 

Procter & Gamble Hall, Aronoff Center for the Arts

During its 16-year history, Classical Roots has grown from a small concert series in African American churches into a diverse city-wide community of music lovers coming together to celebrate African American musical traditions with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The Classical Roots community connects people of different backgrounds through a wildly popular spring concert, often joined by notable guests who embody the African American musical experience. Last year’s special guest was hip-hop artist, Common. At the center of Classical Roots is the all-volunteer Classical Roots Community Mass Choir (CRCMC), led by Conductor William H. Caldwell. The 150-member choir consists of members representing over 50 churches with support from volunteer choral music leaders, clergy leadership and partners. The program also enables churches to raise funds for their programs. This year’s Classical Roots Concert will take place at Crossroads Community Church on Friday, May 5.

E. Selean Holmes was recently hired for the seasonal position of Classical Roots Coordinator. Reporting to Charmaine Moore, Manager of Community Engagement & Diversity, Holmes is responsible for assisting with the management of CRCMC and the entire CSO production team while maintaining the schedule and communications, rehearsal venue set-up and music distribution. She will also use her archival skills to serve as the music librarian. In the 1990’s Holmes was a guest on the classical music radio station, WGUC 90.9 FM and also appeared in their newsletter. “I’m elated to return to the arts,” said Holmes whose background includes holding the titles of Chief Curator, Director, Manager, Visual Artist and Consultant in museums and other institutions.

Since 1985, her work has centered on helping others appreciate the rich history, art and culture of African Americans, including musical history. Holmes’ creative energies were manifested at the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center (Ohio), Smith College Mwangi Cultural Center (New England), Cincinnati Museum Center, Nat’l Underground Railroad Freedom Center, DuSable Museum (Chicago), Northwestern University School of Continuing Studies, Arts & Exhibitions International and Tavis Smiley’s America I AM Project (Los Angeles). Her extensive travel experience for work and leisure led to visiting several West African countries, Italy, British Columbia and multiple trips to Bermuda, where she assisted with the founding of its first Black Heritage Museum. As a curator she traveled extensively across America collecting artifacts and delivering presentations. Citing Yale University as her most memorable educational summer experience, she also attended Knoxville College and is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati. Holmes is the recipient of numerous awards for her work in cultural education and currently spends her time tutoring youth at the Envision Children program while also managing various consulting projects, and is a member of Lincoln Heights Missionary Baptist Church.

“Working for the fifth oldest symphony in the U.S. with 3 regional awards for outstanding work in diversity under their belt, is an honor.” Holmes commented.For more information on the program visit


CINCINNATI--Cincinnati Playhouse presents a hilarious, intimate chat with a national and hometown favorite in ERMA BOMBECK: AT WIT’S END. Adapted from Bombeck’s classic books and columns and directed by David Esbjornson, the show runs May 6 through June 11 in the Shelterhouse Theatre. Using the groundbreaking columnist’s own wit and wisdom, which gave a voice to suburban housewives everywhere, the play paints a warm and funny portrait of the woman who dared to ask, “If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits?”

The play was written by twin sister playwrights Allison Engel and Margaret Engel, both of whom are mothers and journalists, who relate to Erma Bombeck’s work.

Erma Bombeck, a Dayton, Ohio, native, rose to prominence in the 1960s with a syndicated newspaper column sharing her insights about motherhood and domestic life. Bombeck was 37 and had just sent the youngest of her three children to kindergarten when she began her column. She wrote candidly about the messiness of raising children, the difference between the perfect American Dream life portrayed in magazines and the reality of suburbia, and the indignities of getting older as a woman.

Actress Barbara Chisholm will portray Bombeck in this one-woman show. Chisholm previously played the role in the world premiere production in Washington, D.C. According to the Engel sisters, Chisholm “is such an appealing figure on the stage that audiences immediately are taken in.”

For Chisholm, playing Bombeck is the culmination of a lifelong admiration.

Prices for ERMA BOMBECK: AT WIT’S END start at $35.  Tickets for teens and students are $30. Student tickets are just $15 on the day of the show. Plus, Sunday is College Night, with tickets to all 7 p.m. performances just $10.  For more information, call the Box Office at 513-421-3888 or visit 

Photo provided

‘Mandela: The Journey to Ubuntu’now open at Freedom Center

Cincinnati Opera 2017 Summer Festival Begins with La Boheme (June 15th - June 24th)

For more than a century, Puccini’s most celebrated opera, La Bohème, has moved audiences to tears with its sweeping score of gorgeous melodies and timeless tale of young lovers in Paris. Cincinnati Opera presents its co-production with English National Opera, originally directed by the legendary Jonathan Miller. The production, last seen at Cincinnati Opera in 2010, is set in 1930s Paris and was inspired by the photography of the era by Brassaï and Cartier-Bresson. Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Music Director Louis Langrée will conduct, becoming only the third sitting CSO music director to conduct his orchestra for Cincinnati Opera, and the first since Thomas Schippers conducted Puccini’s Manon Lescaut in 1974.

American soprano Nicole Cabell will sing the lead role of the impoverished seamstress Mimì in her fifth appearance with Cincinnati Opera. Cabell recently sang the role of Mimì to great acclaim at the Opéra National de Paris.  Cincinnati Opera will continue its frequent collaboration with Cincinnati Boychoir, which will provide singers for the children’s chorus in the opening of Act II.



Music by Giacomo Puccini

Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica

Sung in Italian with projected English supertitles

Thursday, June 15, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 17, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, June 22, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 24, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.

Evening performances take place at 7:30 p.m., with matinee performances at 3:00 p.m. All performances feature the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. A free Opera Insights lecture is presented one hour prior to each performance.

For tickets and additional information, please visit or contact the Cincinnati Opera Box Office at (513) 241-2742.

Founded in 1920 and the second oldest opera company in the nation, Cincinnati Opera presents a thrilling season of grand opera every June and July. The company's repertoire includes beloved classics and contemporary masterworks brought to life by some of the world's most dynamic performers and creative teams.

Critically acclaimed short film comes to RiverReel Film Festival

One-woman show honors wit and wisdom of famous Dayton, OH native

By John A. Reese

The Cincinnati Herald

“Beautifully Shot and Acted”. “A Three-Minute Storm of Emotion”.  “A Poetic Masterpiece”. These are just a few of the praises that “The Opera Singer” is receiving. This short film by Los Angeles filmmaker Steve Kahn is being screened at Cincinnati’s RiverReel Film Festival.  The premise of the film is about a woman (Rena DuShey) who is haunted by unfulfilled dreams.  “The Opera Singer” is an emotional film that will have audiences shedding a tear for the main character. The most amazing aspect about the film is that it is only three minutes, yet it conveys so many feelings of pain, regret, and loss within its short running time.

Kahn used to do theatre as a child and went the actor route in his later years. However, he eventually wanted to do more just the typical Hollywood fare. “I love being able to tell stories, and stories that really mean something,” said Kahn.  He added that, “short films are like poems, and poems should have feelings that make you feel emotional.”

Kahn is basically a one-man crew. In addition to writing and directing, he takes on the duties of being the cinematographer, editor, and does his own visual effects on all his short films. What is more impressive is that Kahn didn’t even go to film school. He went to school for physics and enjoyed it for a while. Nevertheless, he eventually found his niche in making short films.

All the accolades that “The Opera Singer” is receiving are certainly amazing as this film is getting the best reaction of Kahn’s career so far. Probably the biggest accolade comes from Paul Haggis, the Academy Award winning filmmaker of “Crash”, who said “The Opera Singer” is “Beautiful and Truly Moving”. Kahn has submitted the film to multiple film festivals, and he said that the film has really resonated with people in the Midwest, Mid-South, and Canada.

The main draw of the picture is the voice over performance by Shannon Elizabeth. The actress is best known for her role in the “American Pie” film series. Kahn has a connection with the actress and sent numerous scripts to her, but according to Kahn, “she hated everything he sent to her.” One day, Kahn sent the completed film to her with him already doing the voice over. Surprisingly, Elizabeth loved the film. “She really connected with the film”, said Kahn, and that is when Elizabeth did the voice over for “The Opera Singer”.

What makes this film so special is that it was written for lead actress Rena DuShey in mind. Kahn told me that “Rena is a theatre actress, and she was injured so I went to visit her at the hospital. I wrote the story on the spot. She was looking forward to do it.”

Even though the film ends on a bittersweet note, the main message that Kahn is trying to portray is that “it doesn’t matter how old you, you should follow your dreams and to never let age tell you that you can’t follow your passion.”

For more information about “The Opera Singer”, visit:

In addition, if you want to see Steve Kahn’s previous film, visit:

Matthew Willman, the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s official photographer, is shown with one of his photographs of his famous subject now on display in a Freedom Center exhibit. Photo by Dan Yount 


Photo caption: E. Selean Holmes, CSO Classical Roots Coordinator