Charlotte Blake Alston

Storyteller, Narrator, and Singer

In 2000, I was invited to collaborate with Udi Bar-David on a program of cross-cultural music and spoken word. The performers would include Philadelphia Orchestra principal timpanist Don Liuzzi on percussion and violinist extraordinaire, Diane Monroe. The repertoire was to include traditional Arab, Jewish, and African American melodies and spirituals. I incorporated a traditional African story as well as poems by African American poets Paul Laurence Dunbar and Langston Hughes and Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn. We presented both performances and post concert panel discussions at Philadelphia’s Liberty Museum and in Scranton, PA.

Charlotte Blake Alston is a storyteller, narrator, instrumentalist and singer who performs in venues throughout North American and abroad.  Venues are wide and include the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Smithsonian Institution, the Kimmel Center, and Women of the Word Festival in Cape Town, South African, prisons, detention centers and a refugee camp in northern Senegal.

She breathes life into traditional and contemporary stories from African and African American oral and cultural traditions.  her solo performances are often enhanced with traditional instruments such as djembe, mbira, shekere, or the 21-stringed kora.  In 1999, Charlotte began styding 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), Djimo Kouyate.  Her repertoire is wide and programs are adapted to any grade level or age group.

She brings her stories and songs to national and regional festivals, schools, universities, museums, libraries and performing arts centers throughout the United States and Canada, as well as local and national radio and television.

Charlotte is the first storyteller to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra on both their Family and Student concert series.  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 concerts.  For 6 seasons, Charlotte hosted "Carnegie Kids,"  Carnegie Hall's preschool concert series and has been a featured artist on the Carnegie Hall Family Concert Series in NY since 1996.  She has been a featured teller at The National Storytelling Festival, The National Festival of Black Storytelling, and at regional festivals throughout North America.  She has been a featured artist at both the Presidential Inaugural Festivitites in Washington, DC and the Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Children's Inaugural Celebrations in Harrisburg, PA.


In addition to her solo performances, Charlotte performs with her borther, world-renowned jazz violinist, John Blake, Jr.  and his band in Tellin' On The Downbeat: A Program of Storytelling And Jazz. In Fiddlin 'With Stories, Charlotte and John perform as a duo featuring violin and kora, in a program that celebrates the role of stringed instruments in African and African American culture.  She has collaborated with numerous instrumental ensembles as well as the Opera Company of Philadelphia, Opera North and the carolyn Dorfman Dance Company.  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 Orpheus Chamber Ensemble and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.  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.  Currently, she performs as both pre-concert artist and host of Carnegie Hall's Family Concert Series.  She has served as co-host of the Cultural Exchange and Global Encoutners student concerts.  The Weil Music Institute at Carnegie Hall administers the international student concert series'.  In 2010, she hosted two of Carnegie Hall's Community Sing-Ins.  One Sing-In featured the acappella group, Take 6, and the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

Charlotte's narrative voice can be heard on documentaries includingPlenty 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 herself was featured in the award-winning documentary Family Namethat aired around the country on PBS.  Kinocraft Media Productions converted her "Martin Luther King Storypoem" to video format for educational distribution.  The video is entitled A Closer Look:  Martin Luther King.


Ms. Alston has produced several commissioned works including narrative texts for orchestras and opera companies as well as a commission from the Huntingdon Council of the Arts to craft and tell the story of the African American community of Mount Union, Pennsylvania.  Her libretto and collaboration wiht composer, Andrea Clearfield, resulted Kabo Omowale: Welcome Home Child - a work for orchestra, chorus and narrator.  She has also created and narrated an original text for two movements of Rimsky-Korsakov'sScheherezade for The Philadelphia Orchestra.

Charlotte 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 receipient of theCommonwealth of Pennsylvania Artist of the Year Award (The Hazlett Memorial Award), which recognized individual artists "for excellence in the Commonwealth."  She holds two honorary PhDs and received the Circle of Excellence Award from the National Storytelling Association.  Charlotte was one of four Americans selected to perform and present at the first International Storytelling Field Conference in Ghana and was a featured artist at the Second Int'l Festival in Cape Town, South Africa.  In the summer of 2005, she was the sole American selected to perform on the main stage at the STIMMEN: Voices Festival in Basel, Switzerland.  In 1996, she was the Director of "In the Tradition..." the 14th National Festival of Black Storytelling. In 2009, she was the recipient of theZora Neale Hurston Award, the highest award bestowed by the National Association of Black Storytellers.

You can also hear her stories by downloading the Storytelling application for the iPhone.