This one-hour, outdoor reflection and celebration of Charleston’s continued pursuit of freedom in alignment with the bicentennial recognition of the execution of Denmark Vessey and his 33 associates. The program highlights the promise of America, the promise of freedom and pursuit of liberty, in juxtaposition to the experience of Vessey and other enslaved individuals endeavors on the same soil.
The promise of America is illustrated by Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” a fanfare born out of wartime but dedicated to the citizens experiencing the pains of war, with simultaneous poems outlining what America should be.
The presence of Antonin Dvorak and James Reese Europe is brought forward for their respective and tied efforts to fight for equality in music and in society. It was Dvorak who first championed the voice of African-America folk idioms and traditions to be the very identity of American classical music. His legacy led to James Reese Europe – one of WWI’s most decorated heroes, composer, band leader of the Harlem Hellfighter, and pioneer for jazz having a global presence. Through his efforts domestically and abroad Reese Europe is very much the 20th century echo of Denmark Vessey.
An acknowledgment of reflection of 34 persons executed via recitation of their names during Adolphus Hailstork’s “Epitaph for a Man Who Dreamed,” a work Hailstork wrote in dedication to the lifework and martyrdom of Dr. Martin Luther King.
Select movements of Joel Thompson’s “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed,” a work written as unflinching look gazed at one of our modern day struggles for freedom and agency as each movement is written for an unarmed black man who was killed by law enforcement.
The program ends not in hope but expectation and renewal of fervor with Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and John Legend/Common’s “Glory” from the film Selma.
Denmark Vesey Bicentenary | July 14 – 16
The Charleston Gaillard Center, a leader for performing arts in the Southeast, is partnering with Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and the soon-to-open International African American Museum (IAAM), to mark the bicentenary of freedom fighter Denmark Vesey’s planned uprising to free the enslaved people of Charleston through three days of free and paid cultural performances and conversations. Taking place July 14-16, 2022, the Gaillard Center will open its doors to the Charleston community to acknowledge America’s difficult history of race and slavery, and use arts and entertainment to bridge divides, build dialogues, and support healing in a city that historically saw some of the first enslaved men, women and children enter through its port, and only six years ago, witnessed the racially motivated murder of nine congregants at Mother Emanuel AME Church.
Consisting of discussion panels, musical and comedy performances, and installations, the three-day initiative will bring together prominent artists, scholars, educators, and the community to reflect on Denmark Vesey—a formerly enslaved man and respected, multilingual church leader and businessman—and redefine his place in American history. Attendees will participate in a vital journey of acknowledgement and exploration of the past, present, and future with conversations that reckon with the abominable truths and ongoing repercussions of slavery. The weekend will also include and center performances that aim to facilitate healing through the arts.
Thursday, July 14 at 7:30pm – Truth be Told: Vesey
Friday, July 15 at 8:00pm – Performance by multi-platinum singer, songwriter, producer, and actor Anthony Hamilton
Saturday, July 16 at 5:00pm – Orchestrating Freedom: a free outdoor concert featuring the Charleston Symphony and Lowcountry Voices
Saturday, July 16 at 8:00pm – Performance by Comedian DL Hughley
Learn more about all the events at gaillardcenter.org/denmark-vesey/.