The Kennedy Center


The Watsons Go to Birmingham1963

Friday, March 15, 2019 - Sunday, March 24, 2019

Performances For Young Audiences The Human Journey

Experience the beloved story of a family’s bond and endurance amidst one of the darkest periods in America’s history. Age 9+

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World premiere Kennedy Center commission

Meet the Watsons of Flint, Michigan: Momma, Dad, little sister Joetta, big brother Byron, and ten-year-old Kenny. When Byron can’t stay out of trouble, the whole family piles into their “Brown Bomber” and drives south to visit Grandma Sands for the summer. But along the way, they’ll experience a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement.

Christopher Paul Curtis's Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award–winning book comes to life in a staged concert adaptation by Christina Ham with live music by Darius Smith, directed by Faye Price. Told through Kenny’s ever-witty perspective, The Watsons Go to Birmingham1963 captures hilarious family antics alongside poignant observations of Birmingham’s tragic church bombing. Experience the beloved story of a family’s bond and endurance amidst one of the darkest periods in America’s history.

The cast will feature Tichina Arnold (CBS' The Neighborhood) as Wilona Watson, J. Bernard Calloway (Memphis) as Daniel Watson, Chad L. Coleman (The Wire, All American, The Orville) as Narrator Kenny & Other Broadcast Voices, Alicia Grace (the Kennedy Center's She A Gem) as Joetta “Joey” Watson, Dante Myles Hoagland (The Last O.G.) as Kenneth “Kenny” Watson, Isabell Monk O’Connor (The Gospel at Colonus) as Grandma Sands, Nova Y. Payton (the Kennedy Center’s Broadway Center Stage: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) as the vocalist, and Justin Weaks (the Kennedy Center’s Long Way Down) as Byron Watson.

Please note: This is presented as a semi-staged adaptation. The actors will carry scripts in hands for various scenes of their performance. Erika Rose will replace Tichina Arnold as Wilona Watson for performances on Sat., Mar. 23.

Most enjoyed by age 9 and up. All patrons, regardless of age, must have a ticket.

Mar. 23 at 2 p.m. is a sensory-friendly performance.
Sensory-friendly performances are designed to create a performing arts experience that is welcoming to all families, including those with children with autism or other sensory sensitivities. If you order these performances and do not require these Accessibility accommodations, your family is still very much welcome to attend.

Stay after for a Creative Conversation 
Following the 2 p.m. performance on Mar. 16, young audience members can ask questions and hear stories in an up-close-and-personal talk with author Christopher Paul Curtis and other artists.


Written by Christina Ham
Music by Darius Smith
Directed by Faye M. Price
From the book by Christopher Paul Curtis
Winner of the 1996 Newbury Medal for Excellence in Children’s Literature and the Coretta Scott King Award

This event is part of The Human Journey,collaboration between the Kennedy Center, National Geographic Society, and the National Gallery of Art. The Human Journey invites audiences to investigate the powerful experiences of migration, exploration, identity, and resilience through the lenses of the performing arts, science, and visual art.

Watch and Listen

The Watsons Go To Birmingham - 1963: A World Premiere Kennedy Center Commission