7 pieces to commemorate Juneteenth

Lara Downes | Photo by Max Barrett

As we commemorate the holiday of June 16, we celebrate freedom. We are remembering the freedoms of the past – long fought, hard won – and reminding ourselves of the importance of every human being free. And we celebrate the freedom found in music: the power of music to free our voices and emotions, to share our stories and to change our world.

Tune in for Let Freedom Ring: A Juneteenth Musical Celebration with Lara Downes, a unique journey through the musical heritage and the celebration of freedom. In the meantime, enjoy a selection of songs featured in the program below.

Jessie Montgomery Starburst

Jessie Montgomery is a shooting star in the musical galaxy, and she explosion of stars for string orchestra is inspired by this definition of starburst: “The rapid formation of a large number of new stars in a galaxy at a speed sufficiently high to significantly alter the structure of the galaxy”.

Lettie B. Alston: Variations on Lift Every Voice and Sing

“Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past taught us,
Singing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let’s go on until the victory is won. “

Each new day begins in the dark. As the sun rises, the first light reveals a different world than the one we put to bed the night before. Everything has changed: the earth has changed, the tide has come and gone, even the cells of our body have been renewed. Every life is filled with so many new mornings, so many new beginnings. As we emerge from the gloom of the pandemic and turmoil to face a new day, this hymn of faith and freedom sounds like a call to action and a promise to the next generation.

John Newton / EO Excell / Anonymous: Amazing Grace

The late, great soprano Jessye Norman is an icon and inspiration whose musicality and generosity have touched countless hearts. When we lost it in 2019, we lost a guiding light. Here performance for the ages of Incredible grace it speaks to me so deeply about the lineage and legacy, the songs and stories we pass on from one generation to the next.

Florence Price: Suite on the Mississippi River

Florence Price was a force of nature. She was fiercely talented, ambitious, prolific: she was ahead of her time in so many ways. Born and raised in Arkansas, she left the south during a time of intense racial violence and took her family north to Chicago. She claimed a place in the history books when the Chicago Symphony played their Symphony in E minor in 1934, the first black composer ever performed by a major American symphony orchestra. His Mississippi River Suite takes us downstream along the banks of the Mississippi, accompanied by eerie melodies, the songs of birds in the bush and the wind in the trees, and the echoes of ancient spirituals: “Stand Still, Jordan”, “Go Down , Moses “and” Deep River “- which join in a culminating chorus of” Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen “, before the music fades into the distance. You can find out more about Firenze Price on our Open ears blog series here.

Justin Holland: Peek-a-Boo Waltz

Justin Holland (1819 – 1887) was a composer, classical guitarist, educator, community leader and equal rights activist who worked with Frederick Douglass to help the slaves of the Underground Railroad. His music is full of European charm, grace and kindness, an ironic contrast to the reality of his life and his times.

Scott Joplin: Treemonisha: Overture

Scott Joplin, known as the “King of Ragtime”, was the composer of the first African American opera. Hey he wrote Alberomonisha in 1911, but his only performance during his life was a concert he read in 1915 with Joplin on the piano, at the Lincoln Theater in Harlem, New York, produced and paid for by the composer. In 1976, nearly 60 years after Scott Joplin’s death, the work won the Pulitzer Prize. Joplin paved the way for other big names like George Gershwin, with his music leaving an indelible mark on the world. His music has a special place in my heart: my recording of his “Solace” piano rag is the theme for which Amplify with Lara Downes.

Michael Abels: Winged creatures

Michael Abels (composer of the soundtracks of Jordan Peele’s films go out Other we) he wrote Winged Creatures Inspired by the flight of butterflies and other creatures: delicate, frenetic, slender and powerful. Brothers Anthony and Demarre McGill bring superior virtuosity to this music, along with a sense of brotherly companionship.


Laura Downes

Lara Downes is the resident artist of KUSC and is currently KUSC’s evening guest on weekdays from 8pm to 12am.