It was on that day when a Union Army General rode down to Galveston, TX with news that the Civil War was over. That news meant all slaves must be freed at once – it’s a day still celebrated among Afro-Americans has a holiday called Juneteenth.
This Juneteenth, Your Classical is celebrating by featuring black classical music each hour! Here's some info on six of the twenty-four pieces that will be featured in this year’s Juneteenth Celebration:
Composers of African descent were rare during America’s antebellum period, but Francis “Frank” Johnson still managed to make a name for himself. Born in Pennsylvania back in 1792, Frank would grow up to become a trumpet and violin virtuoso, all while writing dance-inspired music still performed and listened to today! For Juneteenth, we’re featuring two works by Francis Johnson – “The Philadelphia Gray's Quickstep”, and “The Princeton Grand March”.
Over the course of American slavery, songs, known today as Negro Spirituals, were used to pass along secret messages of escape. At the end of slavery, the tradition of Negro Spirituals has been maintained through word of mouth, black church traditions, and in some cases, Music Education! Afro-American music educator and composer, Margaret Bonds, did her part in keeping Negro Spirituals alive by not only performing them on piano, but teaching them to her many students. A great example of this is found in Bonds’ Negro Spiritual-inspired, “Troubled Water”.
In 1619, the very first slave ship arrived in the United States off the coast of Virginia in Chesapeake Bay. While much of Virginia’s history is dark, Virginia-based composer Adolphus Hailstork shines as a beacon of light toward the future of racial equity and equality. In addition to teaching the next generation of composers, Hailstork serves as Composer-in-Residence at Norfolk State University and Old Dominion University. In 1992, he was named Cultural Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia. This year’s Juneteenth celebration features a work he wrote after a very well-known spiritual – his “Fanfare on Amazing Grace”.
Being black in America is a challenge in itself, but being a black woman in America has proved to be even more of a challenge since the first Juneteenth. For a woman named Josephine Baker, the only option was to move to France, where she hoped to find a more equitable social climate. In 2006, Afro-American composer Valerie Coleman honored the legacy of Josephine Baker by musically depicting her life and work. The work, titled “Portraits of Josephine”, has since become a standard for the black chamber ensemble it was written for, known as Imani Winds.
The official end of slavery was a joyous moment for many. Others, responded in a different way. Just months after Juneteenth, a group of Confederate veterans convened in Tennessee and formed an organization known, today, as the Ku Klux Klan. Over the decades, the organization grew, spreading hate and fear across America. Afro-American film director, writer, and producer “Spike” Lee decided to tell the story of a real-life infiltration of the KKK in a 2018 film he titled, BlacKkKlansman. He asked Afro-American film composer, Terence Blanchard, to write the score, and it’s an excerpt from that score that offers the most contemporary part of this year’s Juneteenth celebration.
It’s important to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of Afro-Americans for Juneteenth, and composer William Banfield does that year-round! He serves as a professor in the Liberal Arts Department and director of Africana Studies at the Berklee College of Music, and in addition to teaching his students black music history, he teaches listeners through his own compositions. Banfield’s Symphony No. 6, subtitled, “Four Songs for Five American Voices”, honors some of America’s most significant black musicians, including, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sarah Vaughn. The opening movement of the symphony is an homage to Leonard Bernstein, who played a big role in the Civil Rights movement, 100 years after the first Juneteenth.
On this, the 154th anniversary of Juneteenth, we hope you’ll use music to enrich your knowledge of black history, broaden your perspective of black present, and draw positive hopes for black future. Happy Juneteenth!