Thomas Hampson & Dr. Louise Toppin

Song of America: A Celebration of Black Music

A festival celebrating the music, poetry, and stories of Black composers, writers, and artists.

With two live concerts and three streams, the spotlight »A Celebration of Black Music« is the culmination of the Hamburg International Music Festival. The series represents a new chapter in the long-term project »Song of America«, conceived as a kind of encyclopedia of the American art song; the previous two chapters bore the titles »Wondrous Free« and »Beyond Liberty«. Baritone Thomas Hampson and scholar/performer Dr Louise Toppin are the curators of the »Song of America: A Celebration of Black Music« project. They provide insights into the project:

»›Song of America: A Celebration of Black Music‹ is a mini-festival celebrating the music, poetry, and stories of Black composers, writers, and artists. Curated by Thomas Hampson and scholar/performer Dr Louise Toppin, with special assistance in the orchestral repertoire from conductor Roderick Cox, this festival brings the stories and artistry of Black Americans to the international stage with the message that this music is for everyone. This festival aims to lift up artists and artistic works that have been marginalized and amplify the beauty and creativity of their artistry. Writing Black artistic expression back into the narrative of American art music, this festival – in cooperation with Hampson’s not-for-profit Hampsong Foundation and the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg – invites a global audience to participate in our celebration of Black musicality in all its rich and diverse expressions.

›Song of America: A Celebration of Black Music‹ is part of Thomas Hampson’s long-standing and multi-faceted ›Song of America‹ project, which was inspired by a collaboration with the Library of Congress in 2005, and launched by the Hampsong Foundation in 2009. Song of America is a multi-faceted project that spans almost two decades. It invites performers, students, and audience members to explore the more than 250-year history of song in American culture through its online database, radio series, resources and events for educators and performers, and various special research ventures.« More about Song of America

An overview of all 2021 festival concerts.

Teaser »Song of America: A Celebration of Black Music«

»Song of America: A Celebration of Black Music« comprises two live concerts and three concert streams that showcase the brilliant and multifaceted range of Black expression. The festival reminds us that brilliant music and beautiful musicianship can come from anywhere and from anyone. People of African descent have always been involved in American art music and have always been deserving international recognition. This festival invites the listener to celebrate their voices and hear their words and music. 

The concerts

Monday, 31. May 2021| 18:30 Elbphilharmonie Grand Hall

What was originally designed to be the conclusion of the digital concert series »Song of America: A Celebration of Black Music« now turns into the longed-for reopening of the Elbphilharmonie after the seven-month lockdown. On 31 May 2021 at 18.30, Thomas Hampson together with Louise Toppin and various guests present the programme »Hope in the Night« with opera highlights, spirituals and instrumental music by composers like William Grant Still, Valerie Coleman and William Dawson. The concert is also available to stream from 6 June 2021.

Thursday, 1 June 2021 | 18:30 Elbphilharmonie Grand Hall

As part of the concert series »Song of America: A Celebration of Black Music«, Thomas Hampson and his co-curator Louise Toppin present an intimate song recital with a selection of pieces by Florence Price, William Grant Still and Peter Ashbourne.

The concert streams

Wednesday, 2 June: A Celebration of Black Music I

The programme »Langston Hughes: Singing Harlem in Europe« celebrates the masterful poetry of Langston Hughes, a leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. Between 1929 and 2002, almost 200 of Langston Hughes’s poems appeared in German-language translation — a testament to their power and popularity. His wide-ranging poems, set to music by composers both in Germany and in the United States, boldly present Black American experiences in stark prose.

Friday, 4 June: A Celebration of Black Music II

The second concert stream, »I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings« explores the emotional complexity of Black diasporic art music. Bringing together classic works by composers such as Harry Thacker Burleigh and Florence Price with pieces by an exciting new generation of composers such as Tyshawn Sorey, B.E. Boykin, and Anthony Green, it highlights the Black diaspora in its broadest geographic range while also attending to the rich depths of Black expression.

Sunday, 6 June: A Celebration of Black Music III

The final concert, »Hope in the Night« offers us messages of strength and resilience through operatic excerpts, spirituals, and instrumental music by composers William Grant Still, Valerie Coleman, George Walker, Margaret Bonds, Hale Smith, and William Dawson. Lush and vibrant or soft and warm, these compositions present exquisite musical moments of hope and joy.

Supporting programme

Elbphilharmonie Talk: A Celebration of Black Music

Im Elbphilharmonie Talk sprechen einige der Sängerinnen und Musiker der dreiteiligen Konzertreihe über die fantastischen, auf den internationalen Bühnen bislang völlig unterrepräsentierten Komponistinnen und Komponisten des Programms – und über ein Projekt, das das Publikum einlädt, dieses Repertoire in all seiner Vielfalt zu feiern.

Leah Hawkins Leah Hawkins © Dario Acosta
Thomas Hampson Thomas Hampson © Jiyang-Chen
Ema Nikolovska Ema Nikolovska © Kaupo Kikkas
Lawrence Brownlee Lawrence Brownlee © Shervin Lainez
Justin Austin Justin Austin © Jessica Osber Photography
Joseph Joubert Joseph Joubert © Lelund Durond Thompson
Louise Toppin Louise Toppin © Romanieo Golphin
Howard Watkins Howard Watkins © Dayton Opera Scott / J. Kimmins
Roderick Cox Roderick Cox © Susie Knoll

Artists’ Talk live from the Elbphilharmonie

Im Rahmen seiner wöchentlichen Online-Gesprächsreihe »Thomas Hampson’s World of Song« traf sich der Bariton Thomas Hampson in der Elbphilharmonie mit Beteiligten aus seinem Projekt »Song of America: A Celebration of Black Music«.

Thomas Hampson’s World of Song / Live from the Elbphilharmonie
Thomas Hampson’s World of Song / Live from the Elbphilharmonie © IDAGIO

Auch mit dem Elbphilharmonie-Intendanten Christoph Lieben-Seutter hat Thomas Hampson sich schon zum Gespräch getroffen. Geplaudert haben die beiden über dessen ungewöhnlichen Werdegang, über alte Zeiten und neue Herausforderungen in der Musikszene – und natürlich auch über das Projekt »Song of America: A Celebration of Black Music«.

In collaboration with the Hampsong Foundation 

Christie Finn, Managing Director

Scholar-in-Residence, Song of America: A Celebration of Black Music: Dr. Kira Thurman

Supported by the Kühne Foundation, the Hamburg Ministry of Culture and Media, Stiftung Elbphilharmonie and the Förderkreis Internationales Musikfest Hamburg

Mediatheque : More stories

A Celebration of Black Music III
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Video on demand from 6 Jun 2021 : A Celebration of Black Music III

2021 festival: Accompanied by fellow American artists and by the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Thomas Hampson presents songs and orchestral works written by Afro-American composers.

Music: An Addiction Without Side Effects

Why do I get goosebumps from listening to music? An interview with music psychologist Prof Dr Reinhard Kopiez about the physical reactions caused by music.

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: Elbphilharmonie Talk: A Celebration of Black Music

The performers in the concert series »Song of America: A Celebration of Black Music« about a repertoire that is as fine as it is underrepresented – and a project with an impact.