The songs and spoken excerpts that comprise Bound for the Promised Land: Songs and Words of Equality and Freedom were performed live during the Atlanta Music Festival in 2016 at Ebenezer Baptist Church and Glenn Memorial Auditorium at Emory University. The Atlanta Music Festival was first created in 1910 after the Atlanta Race Riots and revived in 2001 by Pastor Dwight Andrews. The purpose of the festival at its inception was to introduce the world to renowned African American concert musicians. The music featured on Bound for the Promised Land does not disappoint and holds true to the original mission of the festival, with works by Dorothy Rudd Moore, T. J. Anderson, Duke Ellington, John Carter and Adolphus Hailstork. Guest artists include the late soprano Jessye Norman, who performs on four songs, tenor Timothy B. Miller, and narrators Taylor Branch and Rev. Robert M. Franklin, Jr.
From start to finish, listeners are treated to unexpected, yet beautiful renditions of staple songs in the African American musical cannon such as “Wade in the Water” and “Ride on King Jesus.” By focusing on classical arrangements of these songs and others, this festival and album challenge the notion of what constitutes Black music. The selections also reveal the depth and breadth of the African American musical canon to contemporary listeners. Additionally, excerpts of famous speeches by figures such as President Barack Obama and Langston Hughes make a strong impact. The clever interweaving of music and prose further promotes the notion of freedom and equality by allowing powerful moments in American history to be presented to the public in a digestible way. The album opens with a chorus of children performing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and closes with the impactful “Bound for the Promised Land.” Bookending the album with these two tracks shows that unity is the responsibility of all generations as we continue to move towards freedom and equality for all.