WomenArts Presents a Civil Rights Opera in Atlanta
"I wanted to write an opera about the struggle of African Americans, because an opera would give me the space to express the fear, the anger, the sorrow, the love, the faith, the determination, and the joy of working together . . . It was my way of paying respect to the greatness of the ordinary people who suffered and died to bring about change in this country."
-Mary Watkins, Composer & Librettist of The Fannie Lou Hamer Story
Fifty years ago, Fannie Lou Hamer was one of the first African-Americans to register to vote in Mississippi. She became a leader in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and she endured death threats, beatings, and imprisonment in order to obtain voting rights for her people.
Although Fannie Lou Hamer was the daughter of sharecroppers with little formal education, her electrifying speech prior to the Democratic National Convention in 1964 focused national attention on voter inequality. She was a key figure in the movement that pushed President Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices. She often sang at rallies to motivate the crowds.
Voting Rights Are Still At Risk
The opera is especially timely because the voting rights that Fannie Lou Hamer fought for are under attack once again. The Supreme Court recently invalidated the enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and as we move towards the November elections, some states are trying to impose new restrictions on who can vote.
The opera also captures the particular challenges faced by women activists – Fannie Lou Hamer had to fight against sexism as well as racism throughout her life. The opera explores Fannie Lou Hamer's decision to fight for her rights, her challenges, her triumphs, and the impact of her activism on her husband and children.
About the Artists
Composer Mary D. Watkins trained in classical music at Howard University and has written for symphony orchestras, chamber and jazz ensembles, film, theatre, and choral groups, in addition to being a popular recording artist for Olivia records in the 1970s. See her full resume>>
Andrea Chinedu Nwoke from New York and Philip Lima from Boston will play the roles of Fannie Lou Hamer and her husband Pap Hamer, accompanied by a 12-member chorus and the Agnes Scott College Community Orchestra conducted by Qiao Solomon. The performance will also include two orchestral pieces by African-American composers, Soul of Remembrance by Mary D. Watkins and Afro-American Symphony by William Grant Still.
Activist Orchestra Organizes a Musical Tribute to Black Women
Click the video above to learn about an activist orchestra that is raising funds to do a musical tribute to black women because #BlackWomenMatter!
This looks like a great group - please help them if you can!
Opera America Launches the Women's Opera Network
Opera America has been an excellent champion of women composers through their Opera Grants for Female Composers. Now they are studying other women in the field and looking for ways to increase the percentage of women in leadership positions.
They have done two recent studies which discovered low percentages of women leaders in opera. For instance, the graph below shows that the percentage of female general directors in Level 1 companies with budgets over $10 million has remained under 10% since 1990, and it has mostly remained under 30% for the next two budget categories. The only companies that come close to gender parity are the Level 4 companies with the smallest budgets - a pattern we have seen in many other art forms.
Increase awareness of and discussion about diversity and gender parity in the field.
Create action plans to promote the advancement of talented women.
Become a source of support for emerging female professionals.
If you join Opera America ($75/year for individuals), you can participate in activities of the Women's Opera Network at Opera America's annual conference and during the year. (Note: Their 2016 annual conference is May 18 - 21 in Montreal and features the world premiere of The Trials of Patricia Isasa by the female team of composer Kristin Norderval and librettist Naomi Wallace.) If you are not a member, you can still access the Network's page of public resources where they post links to studies about the status of women leaders in opera and other art forms. More information>>
Patience And Sarah Returns to New York for Pride Week!
Set in Connecticut in the winter of 1816, Patience & Sarah tells the powerful story of two young women who meet, fall in love and resolve to devote their lives to each other. The artist Patience White, sister to a middle-class Connecticut landowner, and tough-minded, adventurous Sarah Dowling, the daughter of a poor farmer, share a mutual dream of leaving behind their repressive families to go pioneering together.
The opera is based on the 1969 novel by Isabel Miller, which in turn was inspired by the true story of two 19th-century women, the painter Mary Ann Willson and her companion Florence Brundage. Today Willson is recognized as an outstanding primitive artist. Her paintings may be seen in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Folk Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York.