Naxos Releases a New Recording Composer Hannibal Lokumbe; Dear Mrs. Parks

” … an organic sound world of poetic mysticism, pulsating percussion, work song laments, optimistic spirituals, rhapsodic instrumental obbligatos and dynamic squalls of expression … “
-Detroit Free Press

On December 15, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) releases in North America a new recording on the Naxos label, the second in four months. The CD features a single composition, a stirring oratorio by Hannibal Lokumbe inspired by Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks titled Dear Mrs. Parks. It is led by Thomas Wilkins, who was DSO Resident Conductor at the time of the recording, and features the Brazeal Dennard Chorale, the Rackham Symphony Choir and vocal soloists Janice Chandler-Eteme (soprano), Jevetta Steele (mezzo-soprano), Kevin Deas (baritone) and Taylor Lee Gardner (child soprano).

The work was commissioned and premiered by the DSO in 2005 and was recorded in live performances of the DSO’s annual “Classical Roots” concerts at Orchestra Hall at the Max M. Fisher Music Center in 2009. Funding for this recording was provided in part by JPMorgan Chase with additional support from the Classical Roots Circle of Friends and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Dear Mrs. Parks was made possible through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Dear Mrs. Parks is a 57-minute oratorio for which Hannibal Lokumbe wrote both the music and libretto. Featuring influences from the blues, jazz, African music and Gospel music, it pays homage to Rosa Parks in the form of imaginary letters to the civil rights heroine from three individuals: an African-American woman who worked with Mrs. Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., representing the viewpoint of all African-American civil rights activists of her generation; Viola Liuzzo, a white Civil Rights martyr from Detroit slain by the Ku Klux Klan in 1965; and a young African-American man whose generation has benefited from the Civil Rights Movement. The fourth soloist is a young girl, representing innocence and hope, who leads the “Prayer for the World” that concludes the composition. Both the chorus and soloists are multi-ethnic.

The composition is in 10 movements that are essentially continuous. The orchestration is compact yet meaty, and even when rhythms are quick, they are still tightly orchestrated. The composer creates a sense of music in unity among the sections of the orchestra, the soloists and chorus. The resulting atmosphere lends clarity to the text, and the composer creates wide-open spaces in both the harmony and instrumentation, again illuminating the spiritually charged text.

According to the composer, “Dear Mrs. Parks is a prayer of music and words in honor of Mrs. Rosa Parks and every soul of her spiritual and social realm. She is the true nature of what is perceived and spoken of as being heaven. Her unselfish love, as unselfish love always does, transforms the entire world.”

Hannibal Lokumbe (born Marvin Peterson), resides in the central Texas town of Bastrop and began his musical life at age 13 when he was given a trumpet by his mother. A year later, his band The Soul Masters was backing up icons such as Jackie Wilson, Otis Redding, Etta James, Lightning Hopkins and T. Bone Walker. First inspired by the spirituals and hymns of his grandparents, Lokumbe spent 25 years in New York City playing trumpet and recording with some of his jazz heroes including Gil Evans, Pharaoh Sanders, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner among many others. In 1974 he formed the Sunrise Orchestra and for more than 15 years toured the world playing in every major music festival, from Istanbul to China. After living in Kenya in the early 1980s, however, he returned to New York and began composing orchestral music.

Lokumbe is the recipient of numerous awards: the Bessie’s, the NEA, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He has composed works for The Kronos String Quartet as well as the Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cleveland and Houston Symphonies. His groundbreaking opera African Portraits was performed and recorded by The Chicago Symphony under the direction of Daniel Barenboim and has been performed nearly two hundred time since its November 11, 1990 Carnegie Hall debut. His works range from string quartets to full orchestral and choral compositions.

The internationally acclaimed Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the fourth-oldest symphony orchestra in the United States, is known for trailblazing performances, visionary maestros and collaborations with the world’s foremost musical artists. Esteemed conductor Leonard Slatkin, called “America’s Music Director” by the Los Angeles Times, became the 12th Music Director of the DSO during the 2008-09 season. The DSO offers a year-round performance schedule that includes classical, pops, jazz, young people’s concerts and festivals. The DSO makes its home in historic Orchestra Hall, one of America’s most acoustically perfect concert halls, and actively pursues a mission to impact and serve the community through music.