December 6th and 8th

Margaret Bonds and Johann Sebastian Bach

Margaret Bonds and Johann Sebastian Bach

Ballad of the Brown King
Cantata by Margaret Bonds
Text by Langston Hughes

 Johann Sebastian Bach

December 6th at 7:00 PM
St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
157 Montague St,
Brooklyn, NY

December 8th at 3:00 PM
Old First Reformed Church
729 Carroll St,
Brooklyn, NY

Margaret Bonds (1913-1972) was an African-American composer, concert pianist, and educator. She was born in Chicago and was the first African American to solo with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the age of twenty. She went to Northwestern University, and moved to New York City at the age twenty-six. Her career involved not only writing classical works, but musical theater, songs for Tin Pan Alley, touring and performing as a concert pianist, and working as a church music director and in education. She won numerous awards and was highly regarded while she was alive. The Ballad of the Brown King was premiered in New York City in 1954 and was broadcast in a televised concert on NBC in 1960.

Bonds was very dedicated to the idea of combining Western European classical style, which was the foundation of her musical training, with African American music. She had a great deal of pride in her African American heritage and felt that her most important role as a composer was bringing these two cultures together. Growing up in Chicago she formed close ties to poet Langston Hughes and they maintained a lifelong friendship, with letters back and forth on a weekly basis that span decades. They worked on the cantata “The Ballad of the Brown King” together, Hughes writing the lyrics for Bonds to set, and both dedicating it to Martin Luther King, Jr. This work is mentioned frequently in their letters, and Bonds writes in July 1961, “Most of the piece is based on “Nobody Knows the Trouble I See.” This melodic reference can be clearly heard in the opening melody of the tenor soloist. She also writes, “I honestly want the propaganda of this piece spread all over the world. Further, in the composing of the music I compared the march [on] Montgomery with the ride on the desert.” The famous Selma to Montgomery march that preceded the passing of the Voting Rights Act later that same year did not happen until 1965, so it’s not clear to what event Bonds is referring, but it could be the year-long Montgomery bus boycotts that led to the Supreme Court declaring in 1956 that segregated buses were unconstitutional. In an earlier letter in 1960 she writes, “I’ll love it when more singers who are NOT Negroes recognize the universal message in our songs and sign them far and wide. It’s happening more and more…” -Sarah Riskind

…and as for Johann Sebastian Bach? Enough said.

See you at the concert!