City Winery celebrates Black History Month and Women’s History Month with back-to-back awareness campaigns and fundraisers — “Still I Rise” and “Fierce Light” —honoring women and gender justice.
The result was multiple City Winery venues booking an eclectic group of musicians and thought leaders: Sheila E, Michelle Buteau, Lalah Hathaway, Chrisette Michele, Avery Sunshine, Shemekia Copeland, Eric Benét, SUCH, Teedra Moses, Marquel Jordan, Eric Roberson & Jeff Bradshaw, Mike Phillips, J. Howell, ZO! & Tall Black Guy and BLKBOK.
In addition, City Winery scheduled performances and appearances by Vanessa Carlton, Elle Varner, Keke Wyatt, journalist Karen Hunter, Jill Santopolo (New York Times best-selling author), Storm Large, Whine Down with Jana Kramer and Michelle Buteau in March.
“We aim to foster an environment that embraces and invites people from all walks of life,” said Grace Blake, City Winery programming director for New York City and Hudson Valley. “Michael Dorf, our CEO and founder, has a commitment to having City Winery be a place where everyone has an opportunity to be represented on-stage as well as diversity in all aspects of its meaning.”
Through February and March, City Winery targets a portion of proceeds from the two inaugural initiatives to Black Feminist Future, Black Voters Matter, In Our Own Voice, Sister Reach, Sister Song and Women’s Refugee Commission.
“We go to painstaking lengths to make sure that all groups are being represented on our stage and I think we’ve really concurred that,” added Rhiannon Klee, City Winery programming director in Atlanta and Pittsburgh. “The conversation about this initiative for Black History Month and Women’s History Month is how we can do better as a company on an altruistic and philanthropic level and become an even better community partner.”
Blake and Klee said Diversity Equity and Inclusion initiatives are top of mind at City Winery and officials are constantly looking for ways to make the venues inclusive and welcoming for staff, artists and guests. They presented the idea going into the fall last year and Klee likened getting the idea off the ground to “building a plane in the air.”
“At that point many of our locations had already started booking February and March and we just built around that,” Klee explained. “Now that we have a baseline, we are looking forward to building in the future and working closely with the organizations that are beneficiaries to make sure they are being featured as much as the artists.”
Choosing the beneficiaries was challenging and rewarding and focused on City Winery markets.
“We wanted to be sure that we were representing those organizations within those communities,” Blake said. “We wanted to make it as broad as possible to highlight organizations that you may not have heard of rather than the traditional ones that seem to have the majority of that spotlight. That was our aim to amplify those voices and their mission.”
Booking was a combination of working with artists who were already scheduled and outreach to like-minded talent.
“Nobody said no, which was great,” Klee said. “We did have a massive spreadsheet Grace and I worked on, a talent pool of artists who we know who would be into this, artists who are already involved in community giving – whether it’s political or social justice.”
Blake said, “It’s important as a Black woman in the industry to make sure that I am supporting and representing and making sure the door doesn’t get closed behind me, that it is left open. Being able to provide that safe space for all artists of color, as well as diverse representation, to be able to have a platform because there are so many markets where their voices may not be heard.”
The commitment to inclusivity and diversity initiatives is included in new employee orientations and cultural training sessions which include recognizing diverse events such as Black History Month, International Women’s Day and Pride.
“For us, we want to be the best community partners and not just with our staffing but within the community at large and really having it be a true representation of the market and the places that we reside and operate our business,” Grace said.
Visitors can support the cause by attending shows at City Winery locations in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Nashville and Hudson Valley, a hydro-powered winery, vineyard, restaurant and outdoor concert venue that opened in 2020. City Winery locations donate a percentage of net proceeds to the selected organizations and created a custom cabernet sauvignon wine label for “Fierce Light” and “Still I Rise,” which was designed by City Winery national designer Ellie McIntyre.
During February and March, bottles of wine can be purchased for $50 with $15 going to partner organizations. After April 1, bottles will be available for $35 with $10 going to the various participating charities.
“Next year we are aiming for the entire month of February in all of our markets,” Blake said. “That’s the goal.”