Suzanne’s compilation for Journey toward Freedom

Suzanne’s blog posts in the days leading up to the Journey Toward Freedom concert in May 2013.


A poem to start us thinking of the upcoming Journey toward Freedom concert

Posted on February 2, 2013 by Suzanne

Now, turning the leaf on the Winterreise project, we are setting our sights on the history of the Civil Rights Movement with our upcoming program “Journey Toward Freedom”. This program is inspired by the heroic efforts of so many who sought to create a better, truer America.

Since learning the poem, The Cloths of Heaven by W.B. Yeats, I have for some reason always associated it with the work of Dr. Martin Luther King. And so we’ll feature the song setting by Dunhill on our Civil Rights concert.

But for now, here is the poem. You can read or listen.

Harvey Keitel reading Yeats “The Cloths of Heaven”

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats

1. Oh Freedom — Songs of the 60s

Posted on February 16, 2013 by Suzanne

This is the beginning of a series of posts about the music to be featured on the upcoming Civil Rights Concert: Journey Toward Freedom.  Most of it comes from that unique American contribution to world music — the Spiritual.  Rhythm and harmony, despair and hope, longing, honesty and self possession, grief and joy.  The spiritual says it all and says it best.

1. Our concert is going to open with a version of “Oh Freedom”, fabulously recorded by the great Shirley Verrett — which you will hear on our concert with Denyce Graves!  To get ready for that, take 3 minutes, turn your volume up, sit back and be blessed by this amazing youtube clip.

Shirley Verrett sings “Oh Freedom”

It’s from an album recorded in 1966 called “Singin’ in the Storm.”  Maybe it is just me, but this seems remarkable…  A girl born in New Orleans, raised in California, educated at Julliard, becomes a great Diva of the opera stage — who happens to be black. Thriving in the white, uppercrust world of European and American Opera, she, in the middle of the struggle of the 60’s, records an album with these songs on it:

Oh Freedom

Lamento Esclavo

Strange Fruit

Wie Man Sich Bettet

I Been In De Storm So Long

If I Had A Hammer

Partisan Song

Cry, The Beloved Country

No More Slavery Chains For Me

When Johnny Comes Marching Home

Where Have All The Flowers Gone

I found two vinyl copies for sale on the internet, and it is not available on CD!  Why, I wonder, when so much other less interesting stuff is? Anyway, here is Shirley Verrett in 1971 talking about her start, growing up during the 50s and becoming an operatic star against the backdrop of Civil Rights Movement.

Shirley Verrett in interview 3/7

2. Oh, What a Beautiful City — Who made up this song?

Posted on February 17, 2013 by Suzanne

Next up on our concert will be “Oh What A Beautiful City,” to be sung by Denyce Graves and Lisa Daltirus. It will be based on this is a sparkly arrangement by Edward Boatner, an African American composer born in 1898. (Follow the link below to hear it.)

I tried to find out something about the tune, the words — how this song came to be. No luck. Nothing! We know someone had to compose this original song before Boatner could arrange the tune — we know it did not drop out of the sky like a fully formed baby slipped from bundle of a stork. And yet, there is no history, no composer recorded, no story of the musician and all the other things he/she sang.

Lightbulb moment:

How much history is forever irretrievable! This song is all we have. It’s all we will ever know of that unknown enslaved person who first sang about the Twelve Gates of Heaven.

So here, are three greats to bring you now to the beautiful city: Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle and James Levine.

Kathleen Battle, Jessye Norman: “Oh, What A Beautiful City”

3. Wade in the Water

Posted on February 18, 2013 by Suzanne

OK, I admit it. I love trawling the internet for cool versions of songs, and this is a great one. (A half million people agree.) Five guys full of music and purpose, performing on what seems like a morning news show from a local Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky broadcast. And here I am trying to type this as I listen for the 10th time and I can’t concentrate — the sounds are so mesmerizing.

Wade in the Water

We wanted to include a version of this great spiritual, Wade in the Water, on the Journey Toward Freedom concert, but we needed it for our forces, so we enlisted John Conahan who has written several arrangements for Denyce to create a version for us. It looks fabulous on paper, can’t wait to hear it come to life! Ours will be a premiere, sung by Kevin Deas and the Singing City Chamber Choir, Jeffrey Brillhart conducting, with Keenan Boswell at the piano.

4. Featured Song — Precious Lord, Take my Hand

Posted on February 23, 2013 by Suzanne

One never knows about the accuracy of everything reported, but according to Wikipedia, amazingly, Martin Luther King mentioned the song “Precious Lord, Take my Hand” a moment before he was assassinated. It was an important song for him and for the Civil Rights Movement. As King’s favorite song, he would often request of Mahalia Jackson that she sing it at rallies and even asked her sing it at his funeral, which begs the question: Did he sense that he was not long for the world even before those last days in Memphis?

Two recordings of Mahalia Jackson here singing “Precious Lord, Take my Hand.” The first, recorded in 1961, is probably how King heard it at those rallies. The second is much longer and she looks much older. Dr. King would have been dead awhile, and she would be going soon. This one has the quality of listening in on the deepest murmuring of Mahalia Jackson’s soul. It is not dated, but she died in January of 1972.

As a side-bar, I once read a quote of Mahalia Jackson that said “It’s not my voice, it’s God’s voice. God sings through me. And when God is finished with me, he will sing through someone else.” What a perfect balance of purpose and humility.


And off the beaten path, here is a guy named Kevin Monds singing “Precious Lord”. By now you know that I have a soft spot for folks who record youtube videos in their living rooms. When I saw that this one had been viewed by 15,897 people (that is you, me, and 15,895 others) I thought maybe it’d be worth it. Well, it was. Baseball cap and all.

5. Meet our Artists for Journey Toward Freedom — DENYCE GRAVES

Posted on February 27, 2013 by Suzanne

Denyce Graves is an amazingly beautiful artist and Lyric Fest is honored to have her with us for this concert. She needs no introduction, but here are a few things perhaps you didn’t know about her.

Did you know:

She makes time in her way-too-busy schedule to sing benefits and make recording (donating proceeds) for myriad causes that she believes in, including for soldiers in Iraq, those affected by the events of September 11th and for inner city schools in Washington, D.C.

Denyce said in our interview that being awarded the Marian Anderson Award, presented it by Ms. Anderson herself, was one of the greatest moments of her life.

And in 2003 she was appointed as a Cultural Ambassador for the United States. She now travels around the world in good-will missions of musical performances, lectures, and seminars.

Denyce Graves…making fame matter!

Here she is singing a rehearsal excerpt from “Margaret Garner”:


6. Meet our Artists for Journey Toward Freedom — KEVIN DEAS

Posted on March 2, 2013 by Suzanne

Over a period of 20 years Kevin Deas collaborated and toured with jazz legend, Dave Brubeck in presenting many of his large-scale oratorio works. (Kevin talks about it here.) All this, while he was singing standard classical repertoire with the the likes of the New York Philharmonic, The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Chicago Symphony (to name a only a handful) with Lorin Maazel, Daniel Barenboim, Sir Georg Solti and drum roll…Bobby McFerrin. The definition of today’s 21st century versatile singer.

But Brubeck’s “The Gates of Justice” is a significant piece piece for Kevin, and brings back many fond memories of his time spent the great legend, Dave Brubeck and with his wife, Iola. Lyric Fest will be including one of the movements from this work, “Lord, Lord, what will tomorrow bring” on this weekend’s concerts. Here is an informative clip about the work with both Dave Brubeck’s comments, and video from the when they were recording it. Kevin is featured in the video.

And if you want to hear more, here is Kevin singing “Bess, you is my woman Now”.

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