A belated Happy New Year to everyone reading this. I did not compose an entry for December or January. While I try to maintain a monthly schedule of progress reports, I felt it was better to file this one after accomplishing certain tasks. We made great strides toward the completion of Songs of Slavery and Emancipation. In Berea, KY. and New Orleans, LA. we recorded and filmed four of the remaining seven songs in our repertoire of thirty slave and abolitionist songs. In Berea, we recorded The Recognition March of the Independance of Hayti (sic) composed in 1820 by Francis Johnson for pianoforte, flute and trumpet. The performers were Dr. Kathy Bullock on piano, Cherokee Griffiths on flute and Dr. James Dreiling on trumpet. Dr. Bullock not only played piano, she organized the other players and directed their performance. I have to say that Kathy and I shared a sense of relief upon hearing the result. We imagined the piece might sound dated or corny but would have to be included for historical purposes. We were pleasantly surprised. Francis Johnson was an inspired musician. He composed a stirring tribute to the Haitian revolution.
We also recorded two abolitionist songs, The True Spirit and We’re Coming! We’re Coming!, the first written by Joshua McCarter Simpson, the second by George W. Clark. Here it was Al White’s fine bluegrass ensemble, with Al himself playing banjo, that provided the music. Three young women, Jessie Lawson, Cora Allison, and Hannah From, students at Berea College, delivered spirited renditions of songs that were incendiary in their day. While the melodies derived from old Irish and Scottish airs known throughout North America, the lyrics were both timely condemnations of, for example, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and timeless demands for the end of slavery everywhere.
Our engineer, Don Fierro and videographer, Lily Keber, then traveled without me to New Orleans to record the one slave song in our repertoire that is not in English. This is Ourrà St. Malo (The Dirge of St. Malo), in Louisiana Creole. Givonna Joseph, founder of Opera Creole, https://www.operacreole.com/, gave a moving performance accompanied by the drummer, Kamau. Givonna not only speaks Louisiana Creole she has dedicated many years to keeping alive the language, music, dance and theater of slaves and free people of color of New Orleans. With this piece recorded we now have completed our repertoire of 15 slave songs.
What remains to be recorded/filmed are three abolitionist songs and some crucial interviews. We hope to finish the songs by early March and the interviews no later than the end of June.
Meanwhile, the finishing touches are being put on our Working Class Heroes project (see: http://matcallahan.com/?p=637). This project is comprised of a book and CD. The CD will be released April 26th and the book will follow in September. Yvonne and I will be touring the East Coast in June and other parts of the US in October. Keep an eye on this site for detailed plans.