Philadelphia Alumnae Turns Music Into Social Action

Submitted by Emilee Taylor & C. Gloria Akers

Philadelphia Alumnae Chapter, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., in partnership with The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, vigorously promoted the premiere of SINGING FREEDOM: PART 1 on Sunday Jan. 15, 2023, at the Perelman Theater located in The Kimmel Center.

The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society (PCMS) is one of the nation’s renowned and accessible arts organizations. PCMS was created in 1986, to advance an art form that represents the pinnacle of human achievement and open doors to exceptional music-making events.  After a successful collaboration with Philadelphia Alumnae’s Arts & Letters committee’s support of The Sphinx Virtuosi Concert on October 21, 2022, PCMS approached Soror Akers regarding a new work (co-commissioned by PCMS) by American composer Shawn Okpebholo, whose music has been described as “devastatingly beautiful. . .fresh and new and fearless” (Washington Post)

Thus began Philadelphia Alumnae’s support in promoting

                    Singing Freedom – Parts I & II

                    Freedom on the Move: Songs in Flight

In 2019, Cornell University started “Freedom on the Move,” a database of “runaway ads” from the United States’ early newspapers—names, dates, descriptions, and rewards. These ads, placed by enslavers, preserve snapshots of more than 30,000 enslaved individuals who took their fates into their own hands, liberating themselves from a cruel, ugly cycle whose effects ripple to this day. With “Freedom on the Move” as a starting point, composer Shawn Okpebholo and Duke University professor Dr. Tsitsi Ella Jaji bring these individual stories to life through song.

On Sunday, members of Philadelphia Alumnae joined a sold-out premiere of Songs in Flight with additional material, curated and performed by Grammy and MacArthur Award-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens, poet and author Crystal Simone Smith, and Pulitzer-winning poet Tyehimba Jess, which contextualizes and responds to the database’s primary source materials. This groundbreaking world premiere promises to question the notions of liberty and freedom that our country holds so dear.

The audience was brought to its feet with tears of joy and adulation for this astounding presentation of those who fled to freedom by the phenomenal cast of Rhiannon Giddens, singer and multi-instrumentalist, Karen Slack, soprano; Reginald Mobley, countertenor; Will Liverman, baritone; Howard Watkins, piano; Conceived and commissioned by Sparks & Wiry Cries.

The program states: We thank the following lead community partners for their assistance with Singing Freedom:

African Episcopal Church of St Thomas

Pine Forge Academy

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc (Philadelphia Alumnae Chapter)

African American Museum of Philadelphia

Sparks and Wiry Cries

From the stage, PCMS said loudly and clearly, as they expressed thanks to all who made this program possible – gratitude to C. Gloria Akers and Delta Sigma Theta       Sorority. . . If you want something done – “Call on The Deltas”

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