Rhapsody in Black

Joel Thompson speaks to the issues of today

Joel Thompson’s 'Seven Last Words of the Unarmed' remembers the lives of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Kenneth Chamberlain, Amadou Diallo and John Crawford.Courtesy of the artist

Rhapsody in Black - Joel Thompson


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November 03, 2022

Composer Joel Thompson continues the history of challenging society with his music, like many artists that came before him. He wrote music representing the pain of the Black community, and he took the words and inspiration from people that lost the most. After questioning and second-guessing himself several times, Thompson realized that the classical choral genre was the perfect way to tell these stories. He said it “provided an opportunity to share these emotions with an audience that normally would feel uncomfortable discussing this.” He said, “I thought that music was the perfect vehicle to start a dialogue with an audience I wanted to start a dialogue with."

Musical selections from Joel Thompson

Seven Last Words of the Unarmed

Michael Brown. Trayvon Martin. Oscar Grant. Eric Garner. Kenneth Chamberlain. Amadou Diallo. John Crawford. These names are of Black American men who were each killed by police or other authority figures. They are the subjects of Thompson’s powerful multi-movement choral work Seven Last Words of the Unarmed. This video is from the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club premiere in 2015 under the direction of Eugene Rogers. This is an excerpt from a documentary created in 2016 about the work. For the complete documentary, please visit sevenlastwords.org.

“Hold Fast to Dreams”

Listen to the incomparable The Aeolians, under the direction of Jason Max Ferdinand, perform Joel Thompson's "Hold Fast to Dreams," a captivating work whose words combine two Langston Hughes poems, "Harlem" and "Dreams." "Dramatic and moving, with convincing choral writing and a virtuosic piano accompaniment, this piece is an experience not soon forgotten," the publisher says.


Host: Tesfa Wondemagegnehu

Producer: Dan Nass

Writers: Andrea Blain and Scott Blankenship

Additional music selections: Jeffrey Yelverton

Executive Producer: Julie Amacher