Dr. Nnenna Ogwo, Pianist, Founder and Artistic Director of The Juneteenth Legacy Project (Juneteenth LP) performed along side, Eric Cooper (cellist) and Erika Banks-Alvarez (soprano) to present a program which celebrates the African-American experience in its brilliant fullness; from the grim history of public lynching (past and present) to the rage of the protest song that helped shape and define the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s, to the voices of the Deep South raised in spiritual song. It’s hard to hear the beauty of the lullaby in William Grant Still’s Mother and Child (arranged for cello and piano by Timothy Holley) and not experience that as a violent contrast to Strange Fruit. Each black man or woman that is felled today is someone’s child, someone’s beloved, a fact made painfully clear when we perform the two works side by side.
Hale Smith, in his work for voice and piano, Beyond the Rim of Day, set three Langston Hughes poems that bring a haunting lyricism to the everyday lives of African-Americans. These three poems speak of black women, so often disparaged and neglected, but here treated tenderly and lovingly regardless of their social station. When we place these songs next to Smith’s jauntily irreverent and delightful jazz piano pieces, we get to experience the stunning range of his compositional language.