Arts & Culture

Courtney B. Vance, Angela Bassett honored as Artists of the Year

Courtney B. Vance onstage at Sanders Theatre.

Courtney B. Vance ’82 took to the stage at the 38th annual Cultural Rhythms.

Photos by Jake Belcher/Harvard Foundation

3 min read

Cultural Rhythms’ weeklong celebration highlights student performers, food, and fashion

Actors Courtney B. Vance ’82 and Angela Bassett were honored as Artists of the Year at the 38th annual Cultural Rhythms event on Saturday, capping off a weeklong celebration showcasing Harvard’s diverse community.

Titled “A Family Affair,” this year an inaugural fashion show and food festival led up to the Sanders Theatre performances. Cultural Rhythms is sponsored by the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations.

The diversity of the entertainment was a highlight, with musical and athletic performances by 10 student groups. The Kuumba Singers of Harvard College brought folks to church with a stunning rendition of “Total Praise,” while first-timers Harvard Taekwondo Demonstration Team wowed the audience with high kicks, flips, and punches.

Additional acts took on many of the world’s dance cultures — from Bhangra’s colorful Punjabi moves to Candela Latin Dance Troupe’s salsa demonstration. Mariachi Veritas and RAZA Ballet Folklórico brought Mexico’s traditional dance and music to Cambridge, while Harvard Philippine Forum’s combined old and new in an intricate skit.

“By showcasing the talents and contributions of our artists from various backgrounds and viewpoints, this event not only fosters appreciation for cultural diversity, but also reinforces our shared institutional values of respect, empathy, and solidarity,” said Habiba Braimah, senior director of the Harvard Foundation.

Vance, who has been married to Bassett for 28 years, attended Saturday’s revelry in person to accept the award on the couple’s behalf, while Bassett delivered a heartfelt video message to students.

Following the show, Vance sat down with festival co-directors Kyla Golding ’24 and Cindy Phan ’24.

“Harvard has changed my life,” said the former Adams House resident. “Whenever I’m here, I’m having the most amazing time. It’s not a perfect place — no place is — but it is where I grew up and where I came into myself.”

Vance took selfies with students after the show.

Vance reflected on his career, his marriage to Bassett, and their ongoing commitment to serve the community. The acclaimed actors met at Yale Drama School and share two children and a production company.

Throughout their careers they have worked both on stage and screen. Vance got his start in “Fences” on Broadway and has also starred on such films and TV shows as “The Preachers Wife” and “The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story.” Bassett, an Honorary Oscar recipient and award-winning actress, director, and producer, counts “Black Panther” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” among her most powerful films. Together, the couple has worked with various community organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club of America, Habitat for Humanity, UNICEF, the American Foundation for AIDs Research, and the SAG-AFRA Foundation.

Vance commended the “fire” performances of the night and took photos with students after the show. “It just lets me know that Harvard, like all schools, are microcosms of creativity,” he said. “It’s very important that students come to learn how to think, but also learn how to be exposed to all different cultures. That’s what I see up there. That’s what I’m encouraged by.”