Langston returns to Mississippi
More than 20 years ago, I was asked to write a new composition for tenor voice, alto saxophone and piano by Gail Levinsky and Jackie Edwards Henry, allowing them to perform with fellow faculty member McCray Davis at Mississippi State University. McCray was a very polite and quiet member of the faculty. Hired in the 1970s to be an assistant choral director, he spent years on the faculty teaching voice and staying out of the limelight. As an African-American during this time period, he might have felt that this was best. But Jackie and Gail were convinced of Mac's many talents and wanted to work with him. My job was to write the piece that could make this happen.
I am fond of writing song cycles and selected the poetry of Langston Hughes for this special project. Months of research, including the reading of hundreds of poems resulted in a piece called Langston's Lot, a seven-movement song cycle which to this day is my most often-performed composition.
Over the years, performances have largely developed through word of mouth, and this latest opportunity was no exception. Tenor Jos Milton heard of my work through a colleague in Michigan; he contacted me to inquire about performing the work at the University of Mississippi, with his colleagues Adam Estes, saxophone, and Stacy Rodgers, piano. It seemed highly appropriate to return Langston to the state where it all began.
The trio did not let me down; they gave a stunning performance of Langston's Lot. We presented the work as a lecture-recital, which I enjoyed greatly. Discussing a couple of songs at a time heightened the audience's interest in the music and the poetry of Langston Hughes. After the concert, one student announced that he was off to a book store in search of more poetry by Hughes. Wonderful!
In addition to rehearsals, I also had the honor to visit with students and staff members from the University's Lucky Day residential program. This special first-year opportunity allows selected students to live and work together in a special academic community.. My thanks to Dr. Ethel Young-Scurlock for arranging this luncheon, where we had time to discuss Langston Hughes among other important topics!
Thanks also to the Departments of Music, English, African American Studies, and the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement for their generous support of this event. The concert was a part of the University's Black History celebration; I was pleased and proud to make a contribution .