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Gospel/Jazz Musical Rocks the Athenaeum

August 28, 2015

Something different happened recently at the Athenaeum. The venue, which has hosted political heavy-hitters, literary lights, and distinguished men and women from all over the world, was rocking in rhythm.

Last Wednesday night, the Ath played host to a group of renowned jazz musicians as they set the musical tone for a truncated version of 1976 CMC alum C. Anthony Bush’s gospel/jazz musical “Battle Hymn of a Freedman: African-American Soldiers in the Civil War.”

The rare performance was particularly topical since this year marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation which freed the slaves.

For the occasion, Bush (composer/author) played the drums alongside Grammy-winning tenor saxophonist David Murray, a founding member of the World Saxophone Quartet. Murray flew overnight from Paris just to perform in the piece.

Other performers included narrator Samuel Reece ’74, Thorton Hudson Jr. (piano), Sissel Bakken (mezzo-soprano), Gregory Cooke, Yartumo Gborkorquellie, Bobbie Kyles-Coles and Andrew Robinson.

“I had to be here tonight,” said Ath Fellow David Leathers '15, “because Mr. Bush is not only a CMC alumni but the performance is poignant seeing as how this is the 150th anniversary of the Lincoln’s proclamation freeing the slaves.

“And how great is it that the performance is literally underscored in jazz which is a uniquely American art form pioneered by African-Americans,” he continued.

Ath Fellow Meredith Reisfield ’13 attended because seeing a live musical performance at the Ath is truly a special event. “Plus, I heard them rehearsing in the afternoon and they sounded great,” she said.

For Iris Liu ’16, it was a foregone conclusion that she’d be in the audience. “I come to the Ath about two times a week,” she said. “I love to brag about it to friends from other schools and I was super excited that a performance art piece like this was being represented. I had to come!”

Battle Hymn tells the tale–– in song and story––of Bush’s great grandfather, Frank Wells, who served in the Civil War as a powder boy. According to Bush, the story came down through the family mostly as oral history and in the form of a pension that helped the family survive the worst of the Great Depression. But it was during the “Million Man March” in Washington, D.C., that Bush’s interest in his paternal great grandfather was piqued and he began to research Wells’ story.


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