Black Classical Composers Spotlighted in The Marsh’s New Series

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Singer Candace Johnson and pianist Marc Shapiro lead a new streaming series celebrating Black composers on The Marsh's online platform. (Brian Byllesby)

San Francisco performing arts theater The Marsh is debuting a new streaming performance series titled The Art Songs of Black Composers.  

Actress and soprano Candance Johnson and pianist Marc Shapiro collaborated for the production, which premieres May 22 on the MarshStream platform. It highlights past and contemporary Black American composers, and tells the stories of their contributions to the classical music canon through theater and music. The first installment of the series, Music to My Ears – Hearing Adolphus Hailstork, follows a university music class as a professor and her students discuss the song cycle Ventriloquist Acts of God. Future composers to be featured in this series will include Undine Smith Moore, Margaret Bonds, William Grant Still and more.

Adolphus Hailstork is a professor emeritus of music and Eminent Scholar at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, and he resides in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He is currently working on A Knee On A Neck, a tribute to George Floyd, for chorus and orchestra, and his most recent works include The World Called (based on Rita Dove’s poem Testimonial) which premiered in May 2018, and Still Holding On, which premiered in February 2019 by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. His music was also performed at the most recent presidential inauguration, making him the second Black composer to hold that honor.

Johnson is a professor at UC Berkeley, where she teaches applied voice classes and a class on African American composers. She has sung at venues including Carnegie Hall and The Manhattan Center, and her other work with The Marsh includes her weekly vocal health program FitnesSing! In 2018, she premiered her autobiographical one-woman show Vox in a Box at UC Berkeley. 

The first installment of The Art Songs of Black Composers will be followed by a Q&A with The Marsh founder and artistic director Stephanie Weisman. Act 1: Music to My Ears – Hearing Adolphus Hailstork airs Saturday, May 22, at 7:30pm and Sunday May 23, at 5:00pm. Links to view can be found on The Marsh website.