Mar 3, 2021
"When people talk about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that's art." ~Jeri Lynne Johnson
Near the end of last year’s contentious presidential campaign, opera and activism joined forces on the deck of a moored oil tanker to ask audiences how does democracy function and for whom does it function?
In the wake of that election, artists’ responsibility to speak up and out is even more vital. In this episode of Key Change, host Andrea Fellows Fineberg and Is This America? music director Jeri Lynne Johnson explore the role artists play in activism. They’ll also share memories of the whirlwind logistical maneuvers that ultimately brought the life and work of Fannie Lou Hamer to life.
Jeri is no stranger to art as a means of everyday activism. As a Black woman, every time she steps up to the podium is an act of activism. She’s also an incredibly skilled and passionate interpreter of new music, qualities that made her an excellent candidate to deliver on OFAV’s mission to tell stories of our time in a bold way.
For her part, Jeri had given up on the possibility of collaborating on a live performance until at least 2021. When the opportunity arose for Is This America? she didn’t hesitate, gravitating toward an insistency to make art in any way possible. “I mean, it was almost this mandate, I think, for us to make this piece at this time,” she says.
And, what a time. The production, which juxtaposed the uncertainty of October 2020 with the emotional, often brutal events of the civil rights era, turned out to be more prescient than originally imagined. Is this America? reinforced democratic ideals through collaboration. Whether they were consciously aware of it or not, the artists on stage, the community organizing partners, and the audience formed an activist ecosystem that evening dedicated to fostering more equitable, inclusive spaces in the future.
Jeri agrees. “Art, and the ability to engage in who we are in whatever capacity that is, we are now going to be the rebuilders of society in whatever way that looks like, and I think that we, as artists, are uniquely qualified to do this.”
VIEW THE FULL WORKSHOP:
Is This America?
ALSO MENTIONED IN EPISODE:
Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination - by Robin D.G. Kelley
Season 2, episode 7: Mother of a Movement - introduction to the commission of This Little Light of Mine with composer Chandler Carter and librettist Diana Solomon-Glover
Season 3, bonus episode: Is This America? - interview with voting and civil rights activist, LaToya Ratlieff, Fannie Lou Hamer’s grand-niece; and Diana Solomon-Glover
Season 3, episode 4: Singing a Call to Action - featuring the interpretative artists and community partners of Is This America?
Key Change is a production of The Santa Fe Opera in collaboration with Opera for All Voices.
Hosted by Andrea Fellows Fineberg
Jeri Lynne Johnson - Music Director, Is This America?
Produced and edited by Andrea Klunder at The Creative Impostor Studios
Audio Engineer: Kabby at Kabby Sound Studios in Santa Fe
Theme music by Rene Orth with Corrie Stallings, mezzo-soprano, and Joe Becktell, cello.
Cover art by David Tousley
Special thanks to PortSide NewYork and Carolina Salguero.
Is This America? was sponsored by Lynn J. Loacker.
This podcast is made possible due to the generous funding from the Melville Hankins Family Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and an OPERA America Innovation Grant, supported by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.
To learn more about Opera For All Voices, visit us at SantaFeOpera.org