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Charlotte Blake Alston

A headshot of Charlotte Blake Alston outdoors holding a Kora


For over 30 years, Charlotte Blake Alston has graced stages in venues throughout North America and abroad. Venues are wide and include the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Smithsonian Institution, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Symphony Orchestra Narrations and at regional, national and international Storytelling Festivals. She is a frequent guest artist in universities, grade schools, museums and cultural arts institutions around the country but this former elementary school teacher also presents in Day Care Centers, for Special Needs populations as well as prisons and youth detention centers.

Charlotte breathes life into traditional and contemporary stories from African and African American oral and cultural traditions.

Her storytelling skills were honed in childhood when her father introduced her to the work of African American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar. Her solo performances are often enhanced with traditional instruments such as djembe, mbira, or the 21-stringed kora. In 1999, Charlotte began studying the kora and the West African history-telling traditions of Senegal, Mali, Guinea and Guinea Bissau. Her teacher was the highly respected Senegalese griot (jali), the late Djimo Kouyate. She later resumed her studies with Malian Virtuoso Yacouba Sissoko. Her story-telling repertoire is varied and programs are adapted to any grade level or age group.

In 1991, Charlotte became the first storyteller to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra on both their Family and Student concert series. Thirty seasons later, in 2021 she was named: The Philadelphia Orchestra’s Official Storyteller, Narrator and Host.

Since 1994, she has been the host of “Sound All Around”; the orchestra’s preschool concert series and continues to appear as a guest host and narrator on family, school and subscription concerts. For 6 seasons, Charlotte hosted “Carnegie Kids”, Carnegie Hall’s Preschool concert series. In 1996, she became the Host and Pre-concert Artist for the Carnegie Hall Family Concert Series, a role that continued for 17 consecutive years. . She represented Carnegie Hall in 2003 when she hosted a series of concerts in Miyazaki, Japan with the Eddie Arron String Quartet and fellow storyteller, Motoko.

She has been a featured artist at both the Presidential Inaugural Festivities in Washington, DC and the Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Children’s Inaugural Celebrations in Harrisburg, PA.

She has been a featured teller at The National Storytelling Festival, The National Festival of Black Storytelling, and at regional festivals throughout North America and abroad including festivals in Accra Ghana, Cape Clear Island Ireland, Cape Town South Africa, São Paulo Brazil, Graz and Vienna Austria and Basel Switzerland.

She has been a featured narrator for several orchestras and conductors including The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Orchestra of St. Luke’s, The Cleveland Orchestra, the Saint Louis Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic

Ms. Alston has produced several commissioned works for orchestras and opera companies including original narrative texts for Carnival of the Animals and Scheherazade.

She has been a commissioned librettist for The Philadelphia Orchestra and The Commonwealth Youthchoirs. The Children’s March, a 90-minute work commissioned by Singing City Choir, retells the story of the children’s crusade in Birmingham in 1963. The work premiered to critical acclaim at the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA) in 2013.

She also crafted a text with multiple story lines for a unique set of Choose Your Own Adventure concerts for school and family audiences for the Philadelphia Orchestra. In this one-of-a-kind concert, the audience gets to choose which direction the story line will go!

A collaboration with the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company produced DanceStories; a work in which the choreography is set to her live storytelling.

Charlotte’s narrative voice can be heard on documentaries including Plenty of Good Women Dancers, The Peddie School, and Crosstown. In the PBS documentary Safe Harbor, producers proclaim her “strong, steady voice is like a lantern in the darkness”. She has narrated two shows at the Franklin Institute’s Fels Planetarium – Under African Skies and Stars of Wonder. She herself was featured in the award-winning documentary Family Name that aired around the country on PBS. She is the narrative voice of a series of Maternal and Newborn heath training videos produced by Global Health Media. These critically impactful videos have garnered several hundred million views.

Ms. Alston has received numerous honors including the prestigious Pew Fellowship in the Arts. She was selected as Philadelphia Magazine’s “Best of Philly” and was the recipient of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Artist Of The Year Award (The Hazlett Memorial Award), which recognizes individual artists “for excellence in the Commonwealth.” She holds two honorary PhDs and received the Circle of Excellence Award from the National Storytelling Association. She is a recipient of the Zora Neale Hurston Award, the highest award bestowed by the National Association of Black Storytellers. In 2021 she was named the Philadelphia Orchestra’s “Official Storyteller, Narrator and Host” marking an association that has spanned over 30 years.

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