Sep 1, 2021
To appreciate the life and legacy of civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer is to speak truth to power and unite in song. In June of 2021, Opera For All Voices did just that, hosting an online workshop of This Little Light Of Mine, the one-act opera commissioned by Santa Fe Opera, composed by Chandler Carter with a libretto by Diana Solomon-Glover, in collaboration with Kentucky Opera led by Barbara Lynne Jamison.
No one’s better suited to take the mic than for this exploration Ms. Hamer’s lasting impact than Diana. She delivers three riveting segments beginning with Ann and Chester Grundy, community activists from Lexington, KY, who had encounters with Fannie Lou Hamer. When Ann Grundy offered to escort Ms. Hamer around Berea College campus for a week-long speaking engagement in 1964, little did she know the ripple effect that Ms. Hamer’s presence in her life would have.
One year later and 40 miles away, Mrs. Grundy’s soon-to-be husband Chester met Ms. Hamer at the University of Kentucky. “She asked us what are we doing?” At 18, he was unable to interpret the profound nature of that question. While he wishes he could go back in time to give a more substantive answer, Mr. Grundy knows one thing for sure. “[Fannie Lou Hamer] was a kind of, I would say, a transitional person, someone you never forget, somebody who did something that changed the kind of orbit of your life.”
In the second segment, Diana speaks with Dr. Aldon Morris, the Leon Forrest Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Northwestern University, and Reverend Dr. James Forbes Jr, Senior Minister Emeritus of Riverside Church in NYC. After reading an article he wrote for Northwestern Magazine, Diana was inspired to engage Dr. Morris in conversation about the power of art, music specifically, to affect long-held mindsets about sociological issues.
“Music has just been a central component of our long struggle to be free,” he says, a galvanizing force for centuries. The act of singing itself gave Ms. Hamer the courage to defy intimidation and brutality, to be the light in times of darkness.
Rev. Forbes agrees. Music has always played a central role to worship in Black churches. Ms. Hamer instinctively understood that perseverance and truth were woven into the lyrics she sang. “You just sing about it,” Rev. Forbes says, “[and] you may be able to get away with a political critique.”
The final segment features Diana, Barbara Lynne, and Andrea reflecting on the role of art and artists in a world afraid to confront the truth. Beyond portraying key events in the life of voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, This Little Light Of Mine introduces audiences to truths that may be new to them and, in the process, energize them to transform the future.
“The music gave so much power to the movement and, it's very hard to describe in words, but the thing that music does to us is totally experiential,” Diana and her guests remind us. “It kind of defies language.”
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?
Season 3, episode 6: Building a Better Society - featuring guest host Javier Mendoza and Florida International University students who performed a live stream 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
Guest Host Diana Solomon-Glover
Ann & Chester Grundy - Community activists
Diana Solomon-Glover - Librettist, This Little Light Of Mine, and Key Change guest host
Reverend Dr. James Forbes, Jr. - Senior Minister Emeritus of The Riverside Church, NYC
Dr. Aldon Morris - The Leon Forrest Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Northwestern University
Barbara Lynne Jamison - General Director, Kentucky Opera
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.
NEW! Cover art by Dylan Crouch
Episode Recording Engineer: Andrew Kung Photography
Special thanks to Kentucky Opera
MUSIC IN THIS EPISODE
This episode contains excerpts from the This Little Light of Mine workshop in collaboration with Kentucky Opera, featuring Nicole Joy Mitchell as Fannie Lou Hamer.
Composer: Chandler Carter
Librettist: Diana Solomon-Glover
Director: Beth Greenberg
Chorus master: Everett McCorvey
Music Director: Jeri Lynne Johnson
Fannie Lou Hamer: Nicole Joy Mitchell
Dorothy Jean Hamer: Aundi Marie Moore
June Johnson/SNCC Worker: Heather Hill
MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
The Reckoning Is Here - Dr. Aldon Morris, Northwestern Magazine
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