A Celebration of African-American Art Songs
and Spirituals at Shenandoah University

      Goodson Recital Hall, on Sunday, February 13, 2005, was the setting for a program that Celebratied Black History Month. The concert featured the creativity of African-American composers in a variety of art songs and spirituals performed by six singers and five pianists (Hsin-Yi Chen, Daniel Miller, Rebecca Turner, Cuong Van and Wong Van).

      The program opened with two selections sung by Patrick McCoy, Done Made My Vow to the Lord by Phillip McIntyre (1951-1991), who was an accomplished organist and composer, having served several churches as musician (including Ebenezer Baptist in Richmond), and Climbing High Mountains by Betty Jackson King (1928-1994), past president of the National Association of Negro Musicians. Ms. King composed several operas, an Easter cantata and is well known for her arrangements of spirituals. Mr. McCoy, a graduate student at Shenandoah, was our reporter for this piece.

      Tenor Alexis Benson organized this program assisted by Dr. Michael Forest, Chairman of the Vocal/Choral Division at SU. Mr. Benson sang Daybirth by H. Leslie Adams (b. 1932) who is best known for his opera Blake, art songs and choral works. A graduate of Oberlin, he studied with prominent teachers, including Vittorio Giannini. Earlier Mr. Benson offered a moving arrangement of A City Called Heaven by Hall Johnson (1887-1970) who was highly regarded as a choral director, composer and arranger. Virtually every concert singer has performed his arrangements of spirituals.

      Counter-tenor Curtis Adamson sang a modern piece from a larger work My Heart is Filled With Sadness entitled Broken Vows by D.C. composer K. L. Adamson (b. 1981). Adamson received a degree in music from Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire. His compositions include string quartets and an unfinished opera.

      Margaret Bonds (1913-1972) is well known for her beautiful arrangement of He's Got the Whole World in His Hands. As a composer, pianist and teacher, she was fortunate to gain recognition in her own lifetime. Mr. Adamson sang her joyful You Can Tell the World.

      Tenor Alan Willis sang Soliloquy by John Wesley Work, Jr. (1901-1967) who taught at Fisk Univerisity and published American Negro Songs in 1940, which contained his arrangements of spirituals. Willis' second selection was For You There is no Song by H. Leslie Adams.

      Although Mark Hayes is not an African-American, he has written many thoughtful settings of spirituals. Mr. Hayes is well-known for his choral anthems composed for the church and especially his keyboard arrangements. Baritone Murvyn Cannady sang his setting of Deep River as his first selection and a Florence Price art song, Song to the Dark Virgin as his second. Florence Beatrice Price (1888-1953) was the first African-American woman to garner recognition as composer. It is only fitting that she was included on this program.

      Jacqueline Hairston has arranged spirituals for several prominent singers including Kathleen Battle, Leontyne Price and Robert Sims. Soprano Nicole Davis performed Guide My Feet which begins with the voice a cappella in an ad libitum manner then later accompanied by the piano. Ms. Davis, also sang Hall Johnson's rousing Ride on King Jesus.

      The entire ensemble returned to sing the Negro National Anthem Lift Every Voice and Sing by J. Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954), composed in 1900 for a presentation in celebration of the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln.

Patrick McCoy

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