Between 1892 and 1930, lynch mobs were responsible for the murders of some 3,000 African-American men, women and children. It’s an episode of American history that has been seldom addressed in art, though there are notable exceptions.
One of those exceptions is the dramatic choral work “And They Lynched Him on a Tree.” The music is by William Grant Still, known as “the Dean of African-American composers.” The words are by Katherine Garrison Chapin, a white poet.
The work has only been performed some 25 times since it premiered in 1940, and this weekend, it will premiere for the first time in Georgia. The Georgia Symphony Orchestra and Chorus will be joined by the Spelman and Morehouse Glee Clubs, the Uzee Brown Society of Choraliers and the Georgia Spiritual Ensemble for a Friday evening concert at Morehouse College and Saturday performance at the Marietta Performing Arts Center.
On “City Lights,” Lois Reitzes spoke with two of the men behind the concerts: Dr. Uzee Brown, Chair of the Department of Music at Morehouse College, and Dr. Timothy Verville, Music Director of the Georgia Symphony Orchestra.
Obviously, Still’s work is not something audiences and performers have been comfortable with programming. But, as Dr. Brown notes, “Music is not always aesthetically easy and just beautiful. It is sometimes provocative. It sometimes has a powerful and compelling message that we may not always want to hear.”
The Georgia Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and special guests will perform “And They Lynched Him on a Tree,” among other works, Friday at 8 p.m. on the campus of Morehouse College and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Marietta Performing Arts Center.