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  • Writer's pictureJohn Michael Cooper

SINCE 1973

Updated: Feb 12, 2022

On Tuesday, February 15, 2022, at 7:30 p.m. CT, the internationally heralded GRAMMY-winning chorus Conspirare, conducted by GRAMMY-winning founding director Craig Hella Johnson and together with acclaimed pianist Anton Nel (Professor of Piano and Chamber Music and Joe R. And Teresa Lozano Long Endowed Chair In Piano at the University of Texas), will give an all-Margaret Bonds concert that, IMO, is the single most important Bonds concert since 1973. The extraordinary soprano solo “Especially Do I Believe in the Negro Race” will be sung by Nicole Joseph, and the moving bass-baritone solo “I Believe in Liberty for All Men” will be sung by Marques Jerrell Ruff.

The performance, given live with strict COVID-19 protocols in St. Martin’s Lutheran Church (Austin), will be livestreamed. To access the livestream, just go here in the last half-hour before the performance. The concert finale is the first documented complete posthumous performance of Margaret Bonds’s setting of the W.E.B. Du Bois civil-rights Credo in its original version for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus, and piano – a work that Du Bois’s widow, Shirley Graham Du Bois (a composer of considerable significance herself), described as “a work of art that is eternal – that will live as long as people love each other and really believe in brotherhood.”

That’s the connection to 1973. The occasion for Shirley Graham Du Bois’s declaration was the first complete posthumous performance of the orchestral version of the Credo, given by the Compton Civic Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Jubilee Singers (now the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers), under the direction of Hans Lampl. The poet’s widow labeled the event “one of the most moving moments of [her] life.” That concert included not only the orchestral version of the Credo (which will be performed in Washington, D.C. on 2 April by the Georgetown University Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Frederick Binkholder), but also Bond’s orchestral magnum opus: The Montgomery Variations (this conducted by Angel Gil-Ordoñez). Like the Credo, The Montgomery Variations is an extended musical declaration of the divine imperative for racial justice, a powerful and deeply moving classical manifesto in support of the Civil Rights movement that continues today.

Tuesday’s concert won’t include The Montgomery Variations – but the concert is devoted entirely to Margaret Bonds compositions affirming of the inherent beauty, dignity, and humanity of Blackness, and celebrating the music and the history of Black folk. The program’s music also includes the powerful seldom-heard choral version of The Negro Speaks of Rivers; the first two movements of the brilliant and moving Spirituals Suite for piano solo (I cannot wait to hear these done by Mr. Nel!), the second posthumous performance of the stunning African Dance, and an ensemble rendition of the surpassingly poetic gospel song When the Dove Enters In. The musical selections will be combined with readings from the poetry of Langston Hughes, excerpts from W.E.B. Du Bois’s seminal The Souls of Black Folk (1903), and moving excerpts from unpublished correspondence of Margaret Bonds herself.

Until quite recently, all these vocal works have lain unpublished since Margaret Bonds’s death in 1972. (In fact, the African Dance won’t be out for some months yet!). But they have been published by Hildegard Publishing Company as part of their Margaret Bonds Signature Series. The Spirituals Suite, for its part, remained unpublished until 2020, when the Videmus publishing company brought it out edited by Bonds advocate extraordinaire Louise Toppin.

You can learn more about this concert in this excellent media release by Robin Bradford. The concert webpage is also wonderfully rich, including a recitation of the text of the Credo and numerous “about” links that help to understand the works, their beauty, and their significance.

If you love music, you’ll love this concert. If you love Margaret Bonds’s music, you’ll love this concert. If you support the cause of racial justice, you’ll love this concert. If you’re a person of good will, you’ll love this concert.

If you’re reading this post, you’ll love this concert. I hope you’ll join us.


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