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Bound for the Promised Land: Songs and Words of Equality and Freedom

By January 30, 2020No Comments

Now Available: 2016 Atlanta Music Festival Recording


Jessye Norman
Spelman and Morehouse College Glee Clubs
The Vega String Quartet
Timothy Miller and the Meridian Chorale
Taylor Branch
Rev. Dr. Robert Franklin Jr.

Artistic Director, Dwight Andrews; Music Director, Steven Darsey

Atlanta, GA (January 27,2020).  Meridian Herald releases the 2016 Atlanta Music Festival recording Bound for the Promised Land: Songs and Words of Equality and Freedom.

This live concert recording features what is believed to be the final performance by the late soprano Jessye Norman. Also performing are the Spelman and Morehouse College Glee Clubs, the Vega String Quartet, tenor Timothy Miller, the Meridian Chorale and orchestra and Ms. Norman’s pianist, Damian Sneed. Narrations by Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Taylor Branch and theologian Rev. Dr. Robert Franklin Jr.  address the African American journey from slavery to the not-yet-achieved American dream of a “more perfect union.”  Truths resound in the words of President Barack Obama, author James Dickey, Senator Robert Kennedy, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and poet Langston Hughes, who wrote that change must begin with the human heart.  Dwight Andrews is artistic director and Steven Darsey is music director.

The festival concert capped a prophetic week in Atlanta, one in which over two thousand Atlantans participated in events focused on African American concert music, history, literature and race relations. The recording begins with the voices of more than 500 children gathered at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church to learn about and sing the civil rights anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”  The concert ends with the premiere of an arrangement of “Bound for the Promised Land,” commissioned by the Atlanta Music Festival from eminent composer Adolphus Hailstork.  The traditional text and anonymous tune have been sung by both white and black communities since the nineteenth century.  Added to the traditional text are words paraphrased from Barack Obama’s speech “A More Perfect Union,” exhorting the nation toward justice and harmony.  As a full orchestra played the final stanza, 165 choral singers and 1300 audience members stood and sang with inspired hope: “We will be each other’s keeper there / In a land where all are free; / Where equality and justice rule, / We will write our destiny.”

Since the 2016 concert, the music and words captured on this recording have grown in importance and relevance.

The Atlanta Music Festival is rooted in the city’s history.  In 1910, four years after the Atlanta race riots, African American pastor Reverend Henry Hugh Proctor of Atlanta’s First Congregational Church conceived a concert series to promote racial reconciliation through the arts. Proctor’s festival introduced Atlanta audiences, both black and white, to renowned African American concert musicians. In 2001 Dwight Andrews, Emory professor and current pastor of First Congregational Church, partnered with Meridian Herald, a musical arts nonprofit led by Steven Darsey, to explore the dynamic character of America through the lens of African American music in the classical tradition. Like Proctor, they sought to engage music, literature, history, and spiritual traditions to build community between the races. For more about the festival, see New Georgia Encyclopedia: Atlanta Colored Music Festival Association.

Jessye Norman was one of the most revered classical singers of her generation. Her storied career brought her numerous international awards, and her recordings won five Grammy Awards. She conquered the great opera and concert stages of the world and was a devoted patron of the Jessye Norman School of Arts, in her hometown of Augusta, Georgia. Her memoir, Stand up Straight and Sing!, was published in 2014. Ms. Norman passed away on September 30, 2019.

Renowned tenor Timothy Miller made his operatic debut in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and appears frequently with the Atlanta Opera.

Atlanta native and author Taylor Branch is best known for his landmark trilogy on the civil rights era, America in the King Years. The trilogy’s first book, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954–63, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1989. He returned to civil rights history in his latest book, The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement (2013).

A national figure in education, theology, and ethics, the Rev. Dr. Robert M. Franklin Jr. is president emeritus of Morehouse College and author of books on moral leadership.

Composer, musician, educator, and pastor Dwight Andrews is professor of music theory and African American Music at Emory University and senior pastor of Atlanta’s First Congregational Church. Andrews served as music director for Broadway productions of August Wilson’s plays, including Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Fences. He is artistic director of the Atlanta Music Festival.

Steven Darsey, music director for the Atlanta Music Festival, is founding artistic director of Meridian Herald, for which he conducts the professional Meridian Chorale. He has prepared choruses for Sir David Willcocks and Robert Shaw, and his many compositions include an oratorio setting of Georgia poet Sidney Lanier’s “The Marshes of Glynn.” Meridian Herald was awarded the Georgia Governor’s Award for the Arts and Humanities.

Dwight Andrews explains the mission of the festival:

“The violence in our streets and the assaults on and within our communities again confirm what many of us already know:  we have not come as far as we had hoped as one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. The Atlanta Music Festival seeks to offer a way out of no way, a way forward. Art translates, art transcends and art transforms. An African proverb says the spirit will not descend without a song. In the moans of our ancestors, the groans and even the shouts, we hear them translating their experiences of slavery and oppression into song. We hear the power of those songs, which became the blues and the spirituals and our symphonies.

“Art transcends. Our hearing is much more fluid than the rest of our experience. We live in segregated communities yet hear across those borders. We hear each other’s music and we embrace it. Art transcends boundaries that we put in each other’s way. Our hearing reminds us that art does not limit itself to time and space, race or place.

“Most importantly, art can transform and change our understanding, not only of ourselves but especially of one another. Art can make fear into faith, doubt into hope, longing into gaining.

“Alexis de Tocqueville famously reminds us that America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great. May this majestic thought not be corrupted by the exigencies of the moment but serve as an invitation to be good, to do good and to love the good that is in all of us.”