February 26, 2014
By Katie Nichols
Mobile, Alabama – The sound of people singing music composed by African-Americans rang out this morning at Bishop State Community College. The inaugural Bishop State Black History Month Observance highlighted the specific accomplishments of African-American musicians, but it also noted the steps taken by African-Americans.
“If you look at the songs today, many were from slavery and were spirituals, but those were composed and arranged by other African-Americans who were studied music. If they weren’t, then the songs would have stayed in the field,” said BSCC Choral Director Beverly Little. “The last song that was performed ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ was composed by John Rosamond Johnson, who was one of the first African-Americans to attend the New England Conservatory. The words are poetry by his brother, James Weldon Johnson, who was the first African-American professor at New York University.
“So, the music shows where we started and then moved to where we moved to.”
The program featured performances by Calloway-Smith Middle School Band, Baker High School Choir, LeFlore High School Choir, B.C. Rain High School Choir, Vigor High School Choir, Williamson High School Choir, BSCC Vocal Ensemble and BSCC Choir.
There was also a special performance by soprano Lynn Mackie, who performed her own arrangement of “I Can Tell the World.”
“Every summer I teach Singing with Soul in Italy and I was asked to perform. The arrangement of “I Can Tell the World” just came to me,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite songs to sing wether I’m in Italy or the United States and I think that’s because of the feeling it creates. The feelings differ between singing gospel or Southern spirituals.”
BSCC Dean of Students Dr. Terry Hazzard brought back celebrating African-American music to the college.
“In the 1980s we have a similar music program and through the years, it just went away. I thought it would be wonderful to bring it back to celebrate Black History month,” he said. “Through music, and this isn’t my specialty, but you can see how time has changed – from spirituals to the Harlem Renaissance and jazz to now even hip hop. It is not about just the music, but about sharing the music.
“For example, Baker High School, which is a predominately white high school, performed ‘Swing Down Sweet Chariot’ and the response from the predominately black crowd was incredible. The response was not just because they did a great job, but because they were feeling it. That’s what this was about celebrating the past and present through music.”
Tonight the Prichard Youth Arts Council will perform their Black History Program at 6 p.m. at A.J. Cooper Municipal Complex.
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