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 2021. 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 concert streams

Langston Hughes, 1936
Langston Hughes (1936) © Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons

A Celebration of Black Music I

Das Programm »Langston Hughes: Singing Harlem in Europe« feiert die meisterhafte Poesie von Langston Hughes, einer führenden Figur der Harlem Renaissance in den 1920er Jahren. Zwischen 1929 und 2002 erschienen fast 200 Gedichte von Langston Hughes in deutschsprachiger Übersetzung. Seine thematisch vielfältigen und kraftvollen Texte, die von Komponist:innen sowohl in Europa als auch in den USA vertont wurden, erzählen ungeschönt von den Erfahrungen afroamerikanischer Menschen im »Land der unbegrenzten Möglichkeiten«.

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.

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

In the Elbphilharmonie Talk, some of the singers and musicians from the three-part concert series talk about the fantastic composers featured in the programme, whose music has hitherto been completely underrepresented at international concert venues. And they also speak about a project that invites the public to celebrate this repertoire in all its diversity.

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

Within the scope of his weekly online talk series »Thomas Hampson's World of Song«, baritone Thomas Hampson met artists participating in his project »Song of America: A Celebration of Black Music«.

Thomas Hampson also talked to Christoph Lieben-Seutter, general manager & artistic director of the Elbphilharmonie. They discussed his unusual career, old times and new challenges in the music scene – and of course the project »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

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Live stream in 6 days on 27 Sep 2023 at 20:00 : Les Siècles / François-Xavier Roth

In this concert, François-Xavier Roth and his orchestra Les Siècles combine Mozart’s Salzburg sounds with Ligeti, whose 100th birthday we mark this year. The star guest is Alexander Melnikov.

Play Video

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»The reincarnated Liszt« – Alexandre Kantorow in the Elbphilharmonie’s piano storeroom.