Commission spotlight


Multi-Media Work Inspired By The Cotton Photography Of Philadelphia Artist John Dowell

Damien Geter, composer

Eight songs for mezzo-soprano, baritone, and piano

Premiered February 25, 2023 at The Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral and February 28, 2023 at The Kennedy Center Terrace Theater in Washington D.C.

Premiere performers were mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, baritone Justin Austin, and pianist Laura Ward


I. The Cotton Weeps (Text by Marc Bamuthi Joseph)

II. The Night Before the Run (Text by Alora Young)

III. They Took My Sister (Text by Lauren K. Alleyne)

IV. Homegoing for the People of the Sun (Text by Trapeta B. Mayson)

V. Cotton in the Arms of the Mountains (Text by Nikki Giovanni)

VI. When the Ancestors Speak (Text by Glenis Redmond)

VII. When the Angels Come (Text by Afaa Michael Weaver)

VII. The Struggle Goes On: A Mural Speaks (Text by Charlotte Blake Alston)


Commissioned for Lyric Fest’s 20th Anniversary Season


Description: For its 20th Anniversary LF has commissioned an extraordinary new song cycle by Damien Geter that brought together music, poetry, and the fine art photography of John Dowell. Featuring Metropolitan Opera stars Denyce Graves and Justin Austin, and with Laura Ward, piano.

Acclaimed Philadelphia artist John Dowell felt called by his grandmother in a dream to travel to the cotton fields in South Carolina where his ancestors had likely been enslaved. Thus began an exploration and journey into the world of cotton, where over the past 10 years, Dowell has produced an ever-evolving body of amazing and evocative work. LF’s “COTTON,” is inspired by this photography. Dowell’s work explores, in penetrating super-imposed images, both African American ancestral survival strategies and the wealth of this nation, seen through the lens of the cotton industry. In this spellbinding, multi-media event Dowell’s photography was presented on enormous screens of constantly changing images.

LF has commissioned eight nationally renowned voices of the 21st century, each of whom has responded to Dowell’s photography with a new poem which is set to music by composer Damien Geter:
Charlotte Blake Alston, Nikki Giovanni, Afaa Michael Weaver, Trapeta Mayson, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Lauren Alleyne, Alora Young, and Glenis Redmond. The poets will all be presented in video reading their own poem in the context of the performance.

With video design and creation by Suzanne DuPlantis and lighting and technical design by Allen Doak, Midnight Productions.

*COTTON was be presented at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater by Washington Performing Arts on February 28, 2023, following the Philadelphia premiere. Single tickets for the Kennedy Center performance will be available to the public after Labor Day here.