Rhapsody in Black

Anthony Davis is an opera composer extraordinaire

Anthony Davis was the first Black composer to win a Pulitzer Prize for an opera. Erik Jepsen


Rhapsody in Black - Anthony Davis

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July 21, 2022

Composer Anthony Davis has been creating operas that center on the Black experience for years. With a recent thirst for Black operas, it’s easy to forget composers who have been here all along. In 2019, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his courageous opera, The Central Park Five, with librettist Richard Wesley. It was the first Black opera to be awarded the prize, but it is far from the first composition of Davis’ that dealt with the Black experience in America.

Musical selections from Anthony Davis

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

Like many Black Americans, Davis has had unsettling interactions with law enforcement. His work, You Have the Right to Remain Silent, is inspired by those personal experiences. It combines the Miranda warning, in rhythmic spoken word, with music in a profound presentation.

A Mvt IV: A Walk Through the Shadows

This work is part of Davis’ outstanding 1983 album Hemispheres. The CD is a delightful mix of New York avant-garde and contemporary minimalism. “A Mvt IV: A Walk Through the Shadows” is subjectively the finest on the album with its bitterly beautiful melodies in parallel with propulsive, oddly metered rhythms.

‘You Want the Truth, But You Don't Want to Know’ — Malcolm's Aria from X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X

X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X was composed in 1986 and, as the title suggests, is based on the life of the civil rights leader Malcolm X. The aria takes place as Malcolm is under interrogation by the police for robbery. The stage is centered on him as he sits in a chair. There are no questions as he speaks to his struggle against police brutality.

Making X — Anthony Davis and Thulani Davis

The Detroit Opera presented a newly revised production of X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X earlier this year. Watch as Davis and librettist Thulani Davis talk about the creation of the work. This includes Davis’ brother Christopher, who tells us how the story idea came to be. The video also displays the impact of Detroit on Malcolm’s life and the dire importance of connecting current audiences to America's difficult history.

Credits

Host: Tesfa Wondemagegnehu

Producer: Dan Nass

Writers: Andrea Blain and Scott Blankenship

Executive Producer: Julie Amacher