Harriet Tubman may be the best-known conductor of the Underground Railroad, but a new album highlights another key figure: William Still, who helped nearly 800 enslaved African Americans escape to freedom in the years before the Civil War.
It's about time Still was more widely recognized for his efforts as an abolitionist, historian and conductor for the Underground Railroad. He's featured prominently in the new film Harriet (as portrayed by Leslie Odom Jr.) and he's the central figure of Sanctuary Road, a new oratorio by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec based on Still's 1872 book The Underground Railroad. Kent Tritle deftly leads the Oratorio Society of New York Orchestra, Chorus and a dynamic cast of African American soloists.
Still, who was born free in New Jersey in 1821, moved to Philadelphia in his 20s, where he worked for an abolitionist society. Soon, he became a major figure in the Railroad organization, writing down almost everything he saw and heard.
"Preserve every story, every fact, every event," sings Bass-baritone Dashon Burton with velvety authority in the role of Still. Every tiny detail was recorded by Still in his interviews with the formerly enslaved. The stories he documented were terrifying and heartbreaking.