Metro Weekly

Editor’s Pick: Nova Y. Payton at Songbyrd and with the American Pops Orchestra

Nova Y. Payton lends her voice to both Washington Performing Arts and the American Pops Orchestra this week.

Mars Concert Series at Songbyrd: Nova Y. Payton -- Photo: Norman E Jones
Nova Y. Payton — Photo: Norman E. Jones

On Wednesday, March 1, Nova Y. Payton will perform a “Pre-Birthday Celebration Concert,” where she intends to sing, according to a brief post on her Facebook, “some of my favorite songs, with some talented friends playing behind me.” What’s more, this is a free concert, one kicking off a spring series from legendary music presenting organization Washington Performing Arts.

The Mars Arts D.C. Concert Series is supported by and named after a philanthropist who is also heiress to Mars, Inc., the behemoth family candy business (M&M’s, Snickers, Skittles) that has also come to dominate pet food and pet care markets (Pedigree, Whiskas, Banfield). The D.C. tie-in stems from the fact that the company’s headquarters has been based in McLean, Virginia for nearly 40 years.

In subsequent months the Mars Arts lineup will feature veteran local singer-songwriter Justin Trawick and his Americana band the Common Good (4/2), the five-piece “electronic music ensemble” The Inner Temples led by DJ Adrian Loving, billed as an immersive experience offering “an ambient journey through space, time, and culture” (5/3), and the WAMMIE Award-winning jazz-steeped go-go band The JoGo Project, founded by D.C. jazz saxophonist Elijah Jamal Balbed (6/7).

All shows are presented free at the Songbyrd Music House in the Union Market area — but advanced RSVP is suggested given the venue’s small size, with a maximum capacity of only 200.

Here’s hoping this is just a small start to a growing and lasting relationship with Payton, who would be a promising addition to Washington Performing Arts main programming season, whether presented at Sixth and I or the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

In any case, next week’s Mars Arts concert comes as part of what is shaping up to be a promising spring for Payton. One night earlier, PBS will begin airing a star-studded concert featuring Payton and headlined by legends including Stephanie Mills and Norm Lewis.

Premiering Tuesday, Feb. 28, at 8 p.m., on select PBS stations, including WETA-TV, Black Broadway: A Proud History, A Limitless Future is the latest program produced for PBS by the American Pops Orchestra and its founding Music Director Luke Frazier, this time also featuring members of the Howard University and Morgan State University choirs as performed and recorded last October at Howard’s Cramton Auditorium.

The program focuses on iconic songs made famous on Broadway by Black artists, and among the many standout performances, Payton gets to shine twice, including closing the show with “And I’m Telling You” from Dreamgirls.

Earlier in the program, she sings “I’m Here,” the anthem she sang every night last fall as Miss Celie in Signature’s phenomenal The Color Purple, which earned her one of two nominations as Outstanding Lead Performer in a Musical at this year’s Helen Hayes Awards, set for May 22 at the Anthem.

Her second nomination came from her starring turn in Grace, a world premiere presented last year at Ford’s Theatre.

After winning a 2012 Helen Hayes Award her first time at bat, when she played Motormouth Maybelle in Signature’s Hairspray, Payton had racked up five more nominations prior to this year, but is still waiting to scoop up a much-deserved second trophy. Here’s hoping Mars might serve as a kind of good luck charm for her this year.

Wednesday, March 1. Doors at 7 p.m. Songbyrd Music House, 540 Penn St. NE. Free, but RSVP suggested while still available. Visit or call 202544-5500.

APO’s Black Broadway: A Proud History airs on PBS nationwide on Feb. 28, at 8 p.m. Check local listings.

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