Black History Month

This Is My Story, This Is My Song

Pictured: Corey Barksdale‘s Budda Bar I, Acrylic on Canvas 48″ x 24″

by Dr. Carl Dupont

It is a great honor to tour the country with the American Spiritual Ensemble. The group’s mission, to preserve and celebrate the Negro Spiritual, fulfills a professional goal of mine as a teacher, performer, and researcher interested in promoting the intellectual legacy of black musicians.

However, and most significantly, performing with the group also fulfills a desire I have to communicate with my ancestors. In this country’s infancy Africans and their descendants were prohibited from acquiring literacy in an attempt to control their reality in service to a white supremacist agenda.

In response, these mothers, fathers, architects, farmers, dancers, healers, inventors, mechanics, and preachers became musical storytellers in order to create music that could tell of their experience during enslavement. Without the aid of pen or paper they implemented the Negro Spiritual as a musical tool to transmit their hopes, dreams, fears, and aspirations into the present.

Whereas some people proudly show off their family’s tartan or crest, I can look to the Negro Spiritual as my connection to the past. I can hear the voices and feel spirits of the ancestors singing to me as I sing to them.

When I am performing with the American Spiritual Ensemble, I am on stage with a generation of talented opera singers that have sung in major opera houses and concert halls all over the world – and I can feel how proud we are making the ancestors – who endured the harshest of conditions – so we could thrive.

Honoring their sacrifice by keeping their music alive is a privilege and a duty. It reminds me to keep pressing towards a day for full equality and inclusion.

Dr. Carl Dupont is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. To learn more about the American Spiritual Ensemble, click here.

 

L.A. Theatre works observes 50th Anniversary of MLK Assassination with radio drama “The Mountaintop”

Pictured: Gilbert Glenn Brown and Karen Malina White from the radio drama, The Mountaintop. Photo by Matt Petit.

This year, we mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, outside of his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee, only a few hours after his historic “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. The radio drama, The Mountaintop, imagines what may have occurred in King’s hotel room just before his tragic death.

We spoke with The Mountaintop’s Producing Director Susan Loewenberg to get her insight on this important work.

 

Q: What do you hope the audience takes away from this performance of The Mountaintop?

A: My hope is that our audiences come away from seeing The Mountaintop with a deeper understanding of the complex and beautiful soul of one of our greatest leaders who was taken from us at the age of 39. Who knows how he would have evolved? We can only speculate. But his message, his doubts, his frailties, his convictions, his commitment to a crucial cause deserve our undying admiration, respect and understanding.

Q: Why do you feel it’s important to highlight Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with this behind-the-scenes approach?

A: Good plays engage audiences both emotionally and intellectually. In order to accomplish emotional engagement, we need to be able see behind the façade. An audience wants more from a character than his/her public persona. When both the emotions and the intellect are engaged simultaneously you have “combustion,” and that is the mark of a good play.

Q: What’s unique about the “live-in-performance” radio drama experience? Why do you think radio is still an important medium today?

A: Live-in performance radio drama is our signature form for presenting our work. Interestingly, without elaborate sets and movement, you, the audience, are able to have a more intense experience focusing on terrific performances and indelible words. For the actors, it is a challenging feat to be able to communicate using only your voice. It requires intense concentration and an awareness that everything must be communicated vocally. I often say to actors, “It’s great to smile, but unless the smile is in your voice, no one listening will ever know that you are smiling.” Regarding the importance of radio today- yes, it is still important. But radio, like every media outlet, must adapt to the reality of digital technology. So radio now includes streaming and podcasting, all in the service of enabling the listener to avail themselves of the medium anywhere, anytime. 

The Davidson College Artist Series brings The Mountaintop to Charlotte-area audiences Friday, February 23, 2018. For more information about this performance, click here.

Romantic Pieces by Black Composers

Pictured: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

At WDAV, the month of February brings with it two great programming opportunities. Though we play a wide selection of classical music throughout the year, in February we get to highlight certain pieces as we celebrate both Black History Month and Valentine’s Day. It may seem that the calendar coincidence is all that connects these two holidays, but they actually overlap when it comes to classical music, too. Many incredibly romantic pieces have been composed by talented black musicians, and we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorites below. Enjoy!

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Romance in G for Violin and Orchestra

Coleridge-Taylor was a prolific composer whose works included several string quartets, symphonies, sonatas, and songs. Named after the famous poet, Coleridge-Taylor studied at the Royal College of Music in London and soon gained renown as the “African Mahler.” Here, one of his many romances is performed by the London Philharmonic with Nicholas Braithwaite conducting and Lorraine McAslan on violin.

 

 

Robert Nathaniel Dett: “Magnolias” from Magnolia Suite

Dett is a Canadian-born composer, musician, and professor who grew to fame in America for his use of African American folk and spiritual music as inspiration for Romantic Era-style classical music. His piano and choral pieces are so noteworthy that a choir in Canada dedicated to the works of black composers bears his name. Here, Denver Oldham performs the opening to Dett’s Magnolia Suite, which premiered around 1912.

 

 

H. Leslie Adams: “The Heart of a Woman”

Adams went from studying music at Oberlin College, California State University, and Ohio State to a successful career as an orchestral composer. His works, mostly notably piano etudes and choral pieces, have been performed by countless symphonies around the world. Here, Darryl Taylor performs his piece The Heart of a Woman, an arrangement of the poem by G.D. Johnson, with Robin Guy on piano.

 

 

Florence Price: “Song to a Dark Virgin”

Price is one of the most successful black female composers in the 20th century, as she was “the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer.” This piece, an arrangement of the Langston Hughes poem by the same name, is hauntingly beautiful, performed here by opera singer Marie Hadley Robinson

William Grant Still: A Music-Maker and a Groundbreaker

Pictured: William Grant Still in 1949; credit: Carl van Vechten on Wikipedia.

by Hannah Liberman

To the opera-goers who attended the NYC Opera on March 31, 1949, Troubled Island was simply another original work premiering at the renowned theatre. But the three-act opera, chronicling the assassination of a self-proclaimed emperor during the Haitian revolution of the late 18th century, was so much more than initially met the eye.

With music composed by William Grant Still and a libretto partially written by Langston Hughes, it was the first opera composed by an African American to be produced by a major opera house.

As unprecedented as it was, Troubled Island was met with mixed reviews. Critics questioned Still’s ability to transition from “the soufflé of operetta [to] the soup bone of opera,” and the show was never revived in full.

What’s more, the opening cast featured two white opera stars as the lead characters, while both had been written as black Haitians. But Troubled Island earned 22 curtain calls its opening night, and its legacy as a revolutionary work- both in content and context- continues to this day.

It not only beautifully brought new subject matter to the opera world, but opened up conversation about the lack of representation of marginalized groups in American opera.

Troubled Island may not be in some opera enthusiasts’ repertoires, but it has stood the test of time, with noteworthy productions happening as recently as 2013. Meanwhile, opera companies are starting to replace outdated practices so more prolific artists like Still can have their works produced.

Watch a performance of “I Dream a World” from Troubled Island:

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Hannah Lieberman is a senior at Davidson College where she studies Political Science and Theatre. She loves her work at WDAV, where you can hear her live on Sunday mornings.