By NJG Staff
The Hampton Roads arts community and others are mourning the passing on June 16 of Hugh Harrell, III, one of the co-founders of the Weyanoke Association.
Born in Hampton, Virginia and son of the renowned artist Hugh Harrell, Jr. who died in 2009, he was known as a historian, musician, story teller and community activist.
The Weyanoke Association for Red-Black History and Culture is dedicated to collecting and sharing information about people of African and Native American descent. He was also a singer and co-founder of Legacy Weyanoke, an a capella vocal ensemble composed of friends and family that performed music and stories of the African diaspora at events in the region.
Diana Chappell Lewis, a photographer, and entrepreneur, described Harrell as a “gentle giant.”
She was introduced to him when he returned from New York City by a mutual friend.
She said he reminded her of Paul Robeson and used his vocal and acting talents to “empower his people.”
“He loved uplifting his people and especially the youth,” said Chadra Pittman of the Sankofa Foundation, who described Harrell as a mentor and close friend.
She recalled how Harrell taught her teenage sons a “traditional Liberian hand shake of greeting they still practice today.
“He insisted that we tell our own story,” said Pittman. “The last time I saw him at the hospital he was in the bed singing and dressed in traditional African clothing. He was a man of high moral character. He was a beloved pillar of the community. A great man has passed, but we now have a power ancestor.”
Pittman said that during his final days, Harrell was adamant that African and African-American history be accurately represented during the upcoming 400th anniversary of the recorded arrival of Africans to the English Colony at Port Comfort.
“He was scheduled to participate in the ceremony in August,” said Pittman. “He wanted to end the program with a traditional African ritual of healing.”