Rhapsody in Black

Valerie Coleman is a composer for our times and for generations to come

Composer Valerie Coleman is one of 'The Washington Post's' top 35 women composers.Matthew Murphy

Rhapsody in Black - Valerie Coleman


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September 08, 2022

Composer Valerie Coleman does a little bit of everything. She is a flute virtuoso, a famous composer, a model for Black musicians worldwide and a mentor to her students.

Musical selections from Valerie Coleman

Umoja, Anthem of Unity for Orchestra

Umoja is one of Coleman’s seminal compositions. The original orchestration was for a wind quintet, but it exists in several versions, including vocal and instrumental ensembles. Umoja is Swahili for “unity,” and this is what she has to say about the work, “Now more than ever, Umoja has to ring as a strong and beautiful anthem for the world we live in today.”

Red Clay & Mississippi Delta

Here are Coleman’s words about the work:

Red Clay is short work that combines the traditional idea of a musical scherzo with living in the South. It references the background of my mother's side of the family, which hails from the Mississippi delta region. From the juke joints and casino boats that line the Mississippi river to the skin tone of kinfolk in the area: a dark skin that looks like it came directly from the red clay. The solo lines are instilled with personality, meant to capture the listener’s attention as they wail with “bluesy” riffs that are accompanied (‘comped’) by the rest of the ensemble. The result is a virtuosic chamber work that merges classical technique and orchestration with the blues dialect and charm of the South.

Portraits of Langston: VI. Harlem's Summer Night

This is the sixth vignette from the larger work Portraits of Langston. Using flute, clarinet and piano, Coleman paints a vivid soundscape in each movement that is inspired by a different poem by Langston Hughes.


Host: Tesfa Wondemagegnehu

Producer: Dan Nass

Writers: Andrea Blain and Scott Blankenship

Additional music selections: Jeffrey Yelverton

Executive Producer: Julie Amacher