Devine Carama helps open the Lyric
By Patrice Morgan
The reopening of the historic Lyric Theatre has created a major buzz throughout the city, especially in the African American community. The Lyric, whose stage once hosted artists such as Red Foxx, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald, is now back in business hosting hip hop artists such as Devine Carama, bringing artistic diversity to this historical landmark.
During its prime in the 1940s, the Lyric was an important pillar in the African-American community; it was the only theater in Lexington open to African Americans and remained a staple in the community until 1963 when it closed. Racial integration of other theaters around Lexington seems to have been the reason for the Lyric’s closing. Now, the new focus on revitalization and pride in the East End’s rich history has its doors back open, allowing a new generation to experience the Lyric.
The task of reopening this historic theater has not been an easy one. Part of the rebirth of the Lyric included a 1996 lawsuit in which the state sued Lexington for failing to build a cultural center downtown. Part of the settlement required the renovation of the theater.
Upon entering the Lyric, one has the opportunity to experience its rich history through the gallery downstairs that showcases pictures of the renovation process. There is also a hall that can be used for events like wedding receptions; the hall leads to an outside courtyard that is enclosed within the walls of the Lyric. The structure as a whole is now double its original size, expanding from 13,000 to 29,000 square feet. It also boasts a 540 seat theater whose atmosphere has the ability to take one back to the days of the great performing artists who once graced the Lyric’s stage. One can only imagine how surreal it must be to perform on such a historic stage.
It seems the Lyric has come a long way from the soulful jazz sounds of the artists of generations past and now aims to target a younger audience such as the hip hop generation who, despite their musical credibility, have had a difficult time booking “big stages” in Lexington. Devine Carama, a local artist and a native of Lexington, has made it his mission to promote himself and other Lexington artists who have not had the opportunity to perform at a venue that truly appreciates their creativity. His program, The Devine Experience, served as the culmination of the Lyric’s grand opening festivities and featured spoken word, vocalists, and other hip hop artists. Carama aimed to encourage the younger generation’s involvement in the Lyric and to establish it as a musically diverse place.
I recently had the chance to talk with Carama about the local music scene and his feelings on the Lyric’s reopening. To him, being able to perform at the Lyric meant “opportunity, more eyes, and that they [the Lyric] care about the community.” Describing his feelings about standing on the same stage as so many musical greats, Carama said he felt “accomplishment, pressure, and nervousness.”
Carama reflected on his experience of performing and hosting this historic event. To him, the value of local music lies in the fact that the music has a “pure aspect with no label control” and that it’s a “more organic form of music.” He also credits his love of local music to the fact that “people like seeing people they know doing their thing.” This, along with the fact that he has children, may be the reason that Carama hasn’t left Lexington. The performer insists that he does not need a record deal — the passion is enough for him.
Carama’s passion carries on to the others he inspires and those who shared the stage with him during the Devine Experience. Carama also shared that “I want my little girls to have the same opportunity” to perform at the Lyric, which he says can only be done if the Lyric continues to offer varied programs for people of all ages. Here education is key, and Carama believes that in order for the Lyric to flourish the cultural arts center needs programs that encourage artistic diversity and promote education. This may be the key to the prosperity and longevity of the “grand and re-opened” Lyric.