The picture is coming more clearly into focus on the Zeiterion Theater's decision to cancel the Edwards Twins performance scheduled for May. It appears, according to interviews conducted by the Standard-Times, that it was the local chapter of the NAACP that applied the pressure on the "Z" to scrap the show over concerns about the use of blackface.

LaSella Hall, president of the NAACP New Bedford branch, tells the paper the use of blackface made popular in minstrel shows and other forms of entertainment in the last century is "very problematic," and he is right. But this is not 1920 and we are not talking about caricatures of black people like Stepin Fetchit or the blackface-wearing Al Jolson. The Edwards Twins are "master vocal and makeup illusionists" whose impersonations of world-class celebrities, white and black, are an art form.

Their work has been praised by some of the very same black artists that they impersonate, including Lionel Richie and Stevie Wonder.

LaSella Hall and others are looking to stoke controversy for the sake of controversy, while at the same time denying audiences white and black of an opportunity to experience some very talented artists as they portray legendary performers in a respectful and dignified manner for all to enjoy.

Hall told the paper: "If the Edwards’ act is truly about art, they should apologize and stop impersonating black artists. If they perform black artists’ music, they could donate the proceeds to historically black colleges or another appropriate cause." That is a silly argument that makes no sense.

Rosemary Gill, who is the executive director for programming and development at the "Z," booked the Edwards Twins and then canceled the act after her sudden revelation that she is among the white privileged.

“I learned that there are some of us in this world who are privileged enough to have blind spots to others’ pain," she said.

What a ridiculous cop-out.

Gill ignored my email seeking comment on Tuesday. She owes it to the community to come on the radio and take some calls about this fiasco. The arts are about taking risks, pushing limits and offering sometimes provocative performances that challenge the mind and generate discussion. The "Z" has instead folded like a house of cards, caving to political correctness and opting instead to play it safe. The damage to the local art scene could be immeasurable. Shame on them.

Be careful, next year it might be the NBSO Christmas concert that gets the hook from the Zeiterion stage. Wouldn't want to offend the flakes.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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