Lincoln Center Announces 2020 Season of American Songbook, January 22 – February 29

Highlights lauded singer-songwriters, groundbreaking storytellers, artists pushing the boundaries of the human voice, and creative talents of the screen and stage, including:

  • Singer-songwriter and composer Rufus Wainwright in new show Songs That Built Me; Natalie Merchant crafts intimate, acoustic career retrospective
  • Tony Award winning veteran André De Shields and leading man Brandon Victor Dixon in brand new stage shows; Tony Award winner and trailblazer Ali Stroker; and breakout composer-lyricist Joe Iconis premieres new musical numbers
  • Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe performs as drag alter ego, tenor Blythely Oratonio; Experimental choral group Roomful of Teeth
  • Classically trained lyricist, composer, pioneering television writer, and trans activist, Our Lady J debuts new music
  • Legendary Cowboy Junkies play their unique brand of folk-rock off new album All That Reckoning
  • Grammy-winning, multi-talented Puerto Rican–born songwriter iLe
  • Rare East Coast appearance by Hawaiian singer-songwriter Kalani Pe’a
  • Dynamic, bluesy-folk artist Martin Sexton

Lincoln Center’s acclaimed American Songbook series returns for its 21st year, celebrating the expansive scope and intricacy of the popular music canon from January 22 – February 29, 2020. This year’s concert series includes lauded singer-songwriters, groundbreaking composers, storytellers speaking truth to power, experimental vocalists, and multitalented performers whose artistic breadth reflects the far-reaching perspectives and experiences of the essential American Songbook.

Since its launch in 1998, American Songbook has been dedicated to celebrating the extraordinary achievements of the popular American songwriter from the turn of the 20th century to the present day. Spanning all styles and genres from Tin Pan Alley and Broadway to the eclecticism of today’s songwriters working in pop, cabaret, rock, folk, and country, American Songbook traces the history and charts the course of the American song from its past and current forms to its future direction.

Our American Songbook series brings together a superb group of award-winning musicians, composers, and interpreters of song whose artistry speaks to the broad, ever-expanding facets of American song,” said Jane Moss, Ehrenkranz Artistic Director of Lincoln Center. “Each concert offers an intimate experience with some of the most celebrated and up-and-coming performers in genres from Broadway to Bolero to experimental choral work. We invite audiences to join us for artists they may have loved for decades, and to discover new voices that speak to a range of contemporary experience.”

Opening the season, vocalist, songwriter, and composer Rufus Wainwright performs a new show, Songs That Built Me – a concert experience created especially for his American Songbook debut. Delving into his celebrated catalogue, Wainwright performs the songs that have shaped his identity as an artist and previews selections from his forthcoming Spring 2020 album. Natalie Merchant, former lead singer of the folk-rock outfit 10,000 Maniacs, digs through her immense 7-album discography of solo work for a show that highlights the poetic songwriting, socially conscious songs, and outspoken political activism that has influenced a generation of up-and-coming performers. This intimate performance is entirely acoustic and accompanied by her longtime guitarist Erik Della Penna.

Broadway stars ascend onto the Appel Room stage, starting with 2019 Tony Award winner André De Shields (Hadestown) with a new original show, Old Dawg; New Tricks; On Valentine’s day, Brandon Victor Dixon (The Color Purple, Hamilton, Showtime’s Power), performs his very first solo concert with his brand of essential, powerful stagecraft; Unstoppable performer Ali Stroker (Oklahoma!, Spring Awakening) performs with the unbridled spirit and powerhouse pop soprano that made her the first actress to be nominated and win a Tony award (2019) while using a wheelchair for mobility; And the prodigiously talented writer and performer Joe Iconis, whose musical Be More Chill took Broadway by storm, brings his trademark mash-up of show-tune cabaret and rock ‘n’ roll for a set of classic tunes and brand new numbers.

The limits of the human voice are tested through the experimental, cutting-edge, and Grammy Award-winning a cappella group Roomful of Teeth. One of the most critically acclaimed mezzo-sopranos of her time, Stephanie Blythe asks what it means to transition to a new role, art form, and voice with her show “Blythely Ever After” a display of her outrageous drag alter ego, tenor Blythely Oratonio. Her bearded persona brings audiences on a unique musical journey through opera classics and rock and pop arias. Hawaiian folk-music has its American Songbook debut with the classically trained tenor Kalani Pe’a in a rare East Coast appearance. Pe’a’s versatile voice tours a range of traditional chants, Hawaiian classics, R&B tracks, and original compositions.

After a pioneering career of music composition in the classical and pop world (Sia, American Ballet Theatre) and becoming the first out trans woman to be hired in a TV writers’ room (Pose, Transparent), Emmy-nominated Our Lady J returns to NYC to debut a new catalogue of electro-pop and gospel infused music that she wrote with her collaborator Justin Tranter, one of the most successful songwriters in pop music today. Performing on the heels of her sophomore album Almadura, the rapidly rising singer-songwriter iLe makes her Lincoln Center debut. Her music simultaneously an ode to Puerto Rico and call for political action, iLe brings a tapestry of songs to the stage that include timeless boleros, Afro-Caribbean rhythms, and protest anthems.

Martin Sexton‘s unpredictable voice and soulful melodies, which seamlessly mix folk, rhythm and blues, jazz, and rock, brought him from his beginnings as a street performer in Boston to prestigious stages all over the world with his musical heroes – Art Garfunkel, Jackson Browne, John Hiatt and more. The famed singer-songwriter’s honest lyrics and vocal prowess find the perfect home in The Appel Room’s intimate setting. The alternative country legends Cowboy Junkies earned a ravenous following for the quiet honesty and vulnerability of their second album The Trinity Sessions. Thirty years later, the band plays an intimate folk-rock set with their new album, All That Reckoning, a deeply personal record that speaks to contemporary society, good and bad.

We are proud to sponsor the 2020 American Songbook series and help bring this incredible array of talent and musical genres to Lincoln Center’s stage,” said Orlando Ashford, president, Holland America Line. “Supporting these performances is a perfect fit for us as we are similarly committed to bringing our cruise guests the most diverse collection of live music experiences at sea, including the exclusive Lincoln Center Stage chamber music performances. We hope that American Songbook inspires everyone who attends, as music – like travel – opens one’s mind in such a meaningful way.

The 21st American Songbook series is one of many programs offered by Lincoln Center that annually activates the campus’s indoor and outdoor spaces across a wide range of the performing arts. Additional presentations include the White Light Festival, Great Performers, Mostly Mozart Festival, Midsummer Night Swing, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, ongoing free performances at the David Rubenstein Atrium, and Live From Lincoln Center broadcasts that reach beyond the iconic campus. Lincoln Center also presents a myriad of education programs and presentations for families throughout the year.

This year’s American Songbook concerts are based in two venues at Lincoln Center. The Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center, with its floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Columbus Circle, hosts cabaret-style performances that include table seating, close proximity to the performers, and an incomparable view of the Manhattan skyline. In addition, the series returns to the warm wood-veneered stage of Alice Tully Hall.

American Songbook 2020 Schedule

Rufus Wainwright: Songs That Built Me, Wednesday, January 22, 2020 at 7:30 pm, Alice Tully Hall, Starr Theater, Adrienne Arsht Stage

With his emotionally candid melodies and “genuine originality” (New York Times), Rufus Wainwright has established himself as one of the great vocalists, composers, and songwriters of his generation. As a pop vocalist and songwriter, he has collaborated with musical giants, including Elton John, David Byrne, and Joni Mitchell. His musical output has been wondrously varied and prolific, including a historic re-creation of Judy Garland’s 1961 comeback concert that was performed to sold-out, adoring crowds in New York, Paris, Toronto, Los Angeles and London. His last album was a setting of nine Shakespeare sonnets. For this highly anticipated show in Alice Tully Hall, Wainwright delves into his catalogue, including songs that have shaped him as an artist and may preview tracks from his forthcoming pop album, to be released in Spring of 2020. Through a set list created specially for his American Songbook debut, Rufus will build a singular viewpoint of American song through his unique, unmistakable lens.

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