American composer

First recording of a work by an African-American composer

She was an African-American woman trying to be successful in a world of white men – and she did, performing with world-class orchestras and winning three coveted ASCAP awards, among other accolades.

Recently, Margaret Bonds’ music received another honor with the release of the world premiere recording of The ballad of the brown king (Avie Records). Bonds considered it his magnum opus … a Christmas cantata to a text by the famous Harlem Renaissance poet and longtime friend of Bonds, Langston Hughes. The work will be featured this Christmas season on American sound.

Malcolm J. Merriweather conducts the New York-based Dessoff Choirs and Orchestra in a performance featuring soprano Laquita Mitchell, mezzo-soprano Lucia Bradford and tenor Noah Stewart as soloists.

The opening movement of Margaret Bonds’ Christmas cantata, Tthe ballad of the brown king, in the the world premiere recording of the Dessoff Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Malcolm J. Merriweather:

Bonds’ musical education began in her family home in South Chicago, where she grew up playing the piano at home and at the Baptist Church she attended with her mother.

During his years of study at Northwestern University, Bonds’ eyes were opened to racial discrimination. But a voice of affirmation also came in those years when Bonds first read Langston Hughes’ poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, a skillful and substantial meditation on the richness of African and Afro history. -American who, according to Bonds, later “saved” her. .

Bonds met Hughes in Chicago in 1936, laying the foundation for what would become a decades-long friendship between composer and poet.

When Bonds moved to Harlem in 1939 with the encouragement of Hughes, she pursued a varied professional career of composing, teaching, performing, and organizing concerts and cultural events. Bonds and Hughes also continued their friendship via written correspondence, which included a constant stream of poems from Hughes for Bonds to set to music.

Between 1954 and 1960, as the civil rights movement gained momentum, Hughes wrote the libretto for a Christmas cantata centered on the biblical king Balthazar, who was one of the three wise men to bring gifts to the child Jesus, and whose “black complexion” is mentioned in an eighth-century nativity story.

The ballad of the brown king was dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr. and was first performed in 1954. The work was later extended for a 1960 performance sung by the Westminster Choir and televised on CBS. This is the first time that a commercial recording has been released.

Enjoy Margaret Bonds Christmas Cantata, The ballad of the brown king, to American sound, 6 p.m. Saturday, December 21 and 8 p.m. Tuesday, December 24 on Classical 101.

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