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Spirituals and Showboat on the Deep Charles River


Paul Robeson in Showboat

Postponed until Thursday at 7:00

On Wednesday at 7:00 at the Hatch Shell Boston Landmarks Orchestra will offer a free concert of songs and spirituals by African American composers followed by a concert suite of excerpts and narration from Jerome Kern’s 1927 musical Show Boat. The musical introduced racial themes in forward-looking ways on the Broadway stage. Today it remains a beloved classic of American musical theater, while provoking both admiration and controversy.

“Deep River” is an essential American anthem. It is a sacred folk song born of slavery—as are all Negro spirituals—yet it speaks of hope, freedom, peace, and belonging. In the song’s lyric, the words “deep river” function as neither subject nor object, but as an all-pervading symbol of the transience of this world, and the promise of deliverance to the next.

We can’t identify individual authors of “Deep River,” but we do know it was created by and for African Americans. Many of the past century’s greatest African-American singers have featured it prominently on their programs, including Roland Hayes, Paul Robeson, and William Warfield. Marian Anderson sang it on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 at Eleanor Roosevelt’s invitation, after the Daughters of the American Revolution denied her permission to perform in Constitution Hall because of her race.

The association of this song with black voices is written into history. Yet people of all backgrounds are profoundly moved by it. Langston Hughes, in his most famous poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” alludes to “Deep River,” not only in reference to his own ancestry but also to the human race:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers…


Anyone who doubts whether non-black singers should perform “Deep River” ought to listen to a performance by Bostonian Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. She sang it often as an encore on her recitals, including at the Ravinia Festival in August of 2004, a recording of which is available on compact disc. Her voice reveals the intertwining of love and grief that lies at the heart of the genre. She brings an ecstatic sadness to the peak of the music at “promis’d land,” and sings with an easy American inflection that gives the impression she is completely at home.

A song with such universal resonance is ideal for the Landmarks Orchestra’s One City Choir, this year under the direction of the multi-talented David F. Coleman. “Deep River” also makes a fitting centerpiece in a program uniting several Boston performing arts institutions, each with a mission to advocate for diverse voices in our city. We are excited to welcome Coro Allegro tonight. It is not the first time that “Boston’s LGBTQ+ and allied classical chorus” has performed with the Landmarks Orchestra, but it is the first time that their Artistic Director David Hodgkins has conducted our combined forces. We are also proud to welcome singers of the New England Spiritual Ensemble, in a return visit to our stage, as well as members of Boston’s esteemed annual production of Langston Hughes’s Black Nativity.

Langston Hughes, the poet, and William Grant Still, the composer, were major figures of the Harlem Renaissance, that New York-based flowering of African-American expression that flourished from the end of the First World War through the mid-1930s. Hughes inspired several aspects of tonight’s program. His poem “As I Get Older” was the second of three poems set by composer Fred Onovwerosuoke in his A Triptych of American Voices: A Cantata of the People, commissioned by Coro Allegro and premiered in April of this year. The last movement of the Triptych concludes the first half of this concert.

It’s hard to think of a composer more versatile than William Grant Still. He wrote prolifically for radio, film, theater, opera, and the concert stage, in styles ranging from the avant-garde to jazz. After attending Oberlin College and the New England Conservatory—where he studied violin and composition—he moved to New York, and began arranging for such marquee names as Artie Shaw and W. C. Handy. Still played not violin but oboe in the pit orchestra for Eubie Blake’s historic black-cast musical Shuffle Along, which launched several important acting careers, including that of Paul Robeson. He was a precocious learner, and counted among his mentors both the traditionalist Arthur Chadwick and the experimentalist Edgard Varèse.

Festive Overture is a wartime piece. It won first prize—a $1000 war bond—in a contest sponsored by Eugene Goosens and the Cincinnati Symphony, the same team that commissioned Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man two years earlier. Still’s work is built using traditional European architecture with mid-century American features: a sonata form structure and a neo-romantic quasi-Hollywood style, with extended harmonies redolent of jazz.

The overture begins with a brass fanfare using a pentatonic (five-note) scale rather than the “Western” diatonic (seven-note) scale. The pentatonic scale is the basis of many, perhaps most, musical traditions around the world, including West African and Afro-Caribbean music. The fanfare idea turns out to be a skeletal version of the overture’s good-natured main theme, which appears in the violins moments later. Muted trumpets add a martial character before a second subject introduces an easy-flowing, expressive idea. We have now heard all the basic thematic elements of the work. Constant variation and manipulation of these ideas fill out the eight-minute score. Arthur Fiedler loved to program this kind of music: light and sophisticated, neither popular nor classical but somewhere in between. It is a type of work that no longer has a place in most orchestral programs. The Festive Overture is so spirited and so skillfully orchestrated that one wonders if it would be more celebrated if its composer were known to have been Aaron Copland instead. Or, given historical inequities, if its author simply had been white.

A feeling of love and loss pervades George Walker’s Lyric for Strings, whose original title was Lament. It originated as the slow movement of his String Quartet No. 1, which was dedicated to the memory of his grandmother. Walker completed the work shortly after he graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music, becoming the school’s first African-American alumnus. Fifty years later, he won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Lilacs for voice and orchestra, premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The Lyric for Strings has often been compared to another work for strings alone by a Curtis graduate, Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings (which the Landmarks Orchestra performs on August 14 in a collaboration with the New England Aquarium). In mood there is a similarity, but in texture and design they are very different. Barber’s Adagio is an extended canon, with each voice echoing the others in slow-building counterpoint. Walker’s six-minute Lyric is built in three arches of equal length. Within each arch, separate voices intertwine in upward scales, rising and then bending back on themselves, as if yearning for something not quite attainable. Three times the sound accumulates; three times the music recedes, relaxing into gently repeating chords of consonance and stillness.

We collaborate with two remarkable singers tonight, Alvy Powell and Sirgourney Cook, in our performance of four solo spirituals, three of them arranged by composer-pianist Margaret Bonds. The spirituals first came to light after the Civil War when the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University travelled the world—from Oberlin College to Buckingham Palace—performing selections from this trove of sacred songs in order to raise money for their newly founded university. The recontextualizing of these songs from their original settings of communal worship to formal concert performances would certainly have surprised their anonymous authors. The two musicians most responsible for initiating this tradition were former Fisk Jubilee Singer Roland Hayes—longtime resident of Brookline, MA—and his Boston-trained pianist Lawrence Brown. This past season, Davron Monroe, featured soloist in two spirituals settings tonight, played the role of Roland Hayes in Breath and Imagination, a production of Front Porch Arts Collective and the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, in collaboration with Ashleigh Gordon and Castle of our Skins.

“Didn’t my Lord Deliver Daniel,” in this setting by Lawrence Brown, was a favorite of Roland Hayes. Like most Negro spirituals, the text is taken not from the New Testament but from the Old Testament. Its message is multi-layered: on the one hand, it affirms the promise of divine deliverance for the faithful; on the other, it offers a vision of escape from captivity:

I see my foot on de Gospel ship
An’ de ship begin to sail
It landed me over on Canaan’s shore
An’ I’ll never come back no mo’.

“Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” refers to another figure in the Hebrew bible who fought a divinely inspired battle for freedom. The song sometimes employs dialect—such as substituting “fit” for “fought”—in words that can be taken both in their biblical sense and as an optimistic vision of freedom. There is a giddy bounce in the rhythm and an entertaining final falling gesture as the “walls come tumblin’ down.” “I Got a Home in that Rock” foretells of the salvation awaiting the faithful in heaven. The text invokes the Gospel of Luke to demonstrate the exalting of the humble (Lazarus) and the humbling of the exalted (Dives, the “rich man”):

Well-a poor Lazarus poor as I
When he died he had a home on high
He had a home in that rock don’t you see?

The rich man died and lived so well
When he died he had a home in Hell
He had no home in that rock, well, don’t you see?

“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand”—like “Amazing Grace”—is almost certainly not a Negro spiritual, though many Americans assume it is. Its origins are unclear, but it was collected by Frank and Anne Warner, who travelled throughout rural parts of the eastern United States recording and transcribing folk material. The song rejoices in the Lord as creator and sustainer of all things, as in Psalm 95: “In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him.  The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.”

The themes of hope and salvation contained in the spirituals have influenced composers throughout the world. English composer Michael Tippett drew on the healing power of the spirituals to extraordinary effect in his oratorio A Child of our Time. The harsh nature of Tippett’s subject—an incident leading to the Nazi pogrom of Kristallnacht—is balanced by the deeply consoling tone of the spirituals. They function in much the same way that the Lutheran chorales do in Bach’s Passion settings. Tippett’s arrangement of “Deep River” for soloists and orchestra is the final movement of his oratorio. Our solo quartet includes—in addition to Sirgourney Cook and Davron Monroe—two devoted board members of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, Myran Parker-Brass and Milton Wright, both members of the New England Spiritual Ensemble. Myran has served recently as Executive Director for the Arts of the Boston Public Schools, and Milton currently serves as Music Director of Black Nativity. For our performance of this work, I am delighted to share the podium with the Choirmaster of this year’s One City Choir, David Freeman Coleman.

Among many early twentieth-century composers who incorporated the spirituals into their compositions was the Canadian-born Robert Nathaniel Dett. In 1918, he wrote: “We have this wonderful store of folk music—the melodies of an enslaved people… But this store will be of no value unless we utilize it, unless we treat it in such manner that it can be presented in choral form, in lyric and operatic works, in concertos and suites and salon music—unless our musical architects take the rough timber of Negro themes and fashion from it music which will prove that we, too, have national feelings and characteristics, as have the European peoples whose forms we have zealously followed for so long.”

Dett composed The Chariot Jubilee while in residence at Harvard; the premiere performance was in Boston in 1921. He originally wrote it for tenor, chorus, and organ. Hale Smith’s orchestration was commissioned on behalf of the Atlanta Symphony by Benjamin Roe, who served for a number of years as a board member of the Landmarks Orchestra. The opening bars of The Chariot Jubilee pay tribute to the chords heard at the beginning of the Largo of Dvořák’s New World Symphony. Dvořák had famously urged Americans to use the spirituals as a resource to create an authentic American musical style. The work is a felicitous hybrid of arranged spiritual and European-style anthem. Davron Monroe is our tenor soloist. The biblically inspired text is Dett’s own:

Tenor:    Down from the heavens, a golden chariot is swinging …
Comes God’s promise of salvation
Hallelujah, hallelujah!
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.

Chorus:  God made a covenant, for the glory of His grace,
Thru our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.

Chorus:  God made a covenant, for the glory of His grace,
Thru our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;
His gospel flowing free, like a chariot swung from heaven,
Shall bear the true believer home, safely home.
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Sweet cov’nant of salvation,
Swing low, O swing low!

Chorus:  Salvation, sweet cov’nant of our Lord,
I shall ride up in the chariot in that morning! (repeat)

Tenor:    He who doth on Christ believe (Chorus: Swing low, sweet chariot!)
Tho’ he were dead, yet shall he live. (Sweet chariot, swing low!)
King Jesus triumphed o’er the grave, (Swing low, sweet chariot!)
His grace alone can sinners save! (Sweet chariot, swing low! Hallelujah!)

Chorus:  Salvation, sweet cov’nant of our Lord,
I shall ride up in the chariot in that morning!
Salvation, sweet cov’nant of our Lord,
Swing low, sweet chariot, Coming for to carry me home,
God made a covenant for the glory of his grace …
O hallelujah!
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home,
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home,

Tenor:    Swing low, sweet chariot, sweet cov’nant of God’s grace!
Chorus:  Coming for to carry me home. O hallelujah!

David F. Coleman offers the following description of the next work, performed by the choir alone, without orchestral accompaniment:

“In the days following the events of 9/11/01, songwriter David Frazier composed “I Need You to Survive,” which was first performed at Radio City Music Hall in early 2002 by gospel recording artist Hezekiah Walker and the Love Fellowship Crusade Choir. This song in the contemporary gospel genre is unique in that it is sung completely in unison, and the focus of the text is more for the uplifting of the congregation rather than praising a higher power.  At the time, New York City was experiencing a community coming together, putting aside differences, and looking forward. In saying, “Stand with me. Agree with me, we’re all a part of God’s body,” the song sets a tone of inclusivity and genuine desire for human connection. The refrain of “I won’t harm you with words from my mouth” still rings as a call for us today, and a maxim we could use across all areas of our country, government, and abroad. Tonight’s concert, “Deep River,” follows in step with the themes of “I Need You to Survive”—inclusivity, shared song, shared struggles, shared victories. We would do well to carry on this work long after the concert ends.”

Coro Allegro performed a concert at Sanders Theatre in March called America: We Need to Talk. It featured a choral work by William Grant Still and two works by St. Louis-based composer Fred Onovwerosuoke—or FredO as he is universally known—including the world premiere of his A Triptych of American Voices: A Cantata of the People, described as a “kaleidoscopic work by an immigrant composer [that] shines light on race relations in America through the prism of three great poems.” Tonight, Coro Allegro’s Artistic Director David Hodgkins leads chorus, orchestra, and soloists in the ninth and final movement of that work. The text is from the poem, “We Need to Talk,” by Michael Castro (1945-2018), from his collection, We Need to Talk: Selected and New Poems, published by the Singing Bone Press.

Our soloists—who sang also at the March premiere—are countertenor Tai Oney and tenor Jonathan Budris. The composer rearranged the order of some of the poet’s lines. FredO explains what transpired when he played an early version of the work to Michael Castro: “When he heard his poem… he noticed at once how I had ‘re-versed his poem,’ and with a twinkle in his eyes 

In an interview with Coro Allegro’s Marketing & Audience Development Director, Yoshi Campbell, FredO reflects on the work: “Michael Castro’s poem captures a lot of the things rising in the Ferguson-St. Louis area, things that did not come about overnight, but a frustration that has been brewing for a long time, a community that has been silenced. The entire work is designed as a partnership of voices and musicians sharing aspects of one grand song… At [an informal preview] in Saint Louis, Missouri, as I read aloud the poem’s text rhythmically to the music, Michael’s eyes grew big with excitement. He said afterwards, ‘After all, the way we were protesting in St. Louis [during the Ferguson unrest due to the slaying of Michael Brown], it was not a gentle voice, it was a strong voice, by the people. “GET OUT of your closed mind!” Wake up and address this bigotry, these injustices!’” 

Of the commissioning organization, FredO says, “My relationship with Coro Allegro reminds me of what Viola Davis said when accepting her first Oscar: ‘There is no shortage of great black artists. All we need is an opportunity.’ That is what Coro Allegro and David Hodgkins gave me: an opportunity.”

Dr. Todd Decker, author of Who Should Sing Ol’ Man River?: The Lives of an American Popular Song and Show Boat: Performing Race in an American Musical, has served as an advisor to the Boston Landmarks Orchestra this summer during our preparations for this program. He has been enormously generous with his time and extremely helpful in his suggestions. He served as a panelist in our Community Conversation on the portrayal of race in musical theater and on the concert stage on July 23 at WBUR’s CitySpace. We are deeply grateful to Todd. Reverend Emmett G. Price III moderated that Conversation, and contributed much to our understanding of issues surrounding music and race. His wise leadership on a range of issues important to this community is well known, as is his empathic and kindhearted manner. We are fortunate to count Emmett a friend. And we are excited for the new podcast on faith, politics, and culture he publishes, together with Reverend Irene Monroe: “All Rev’d Up.”

Show Boat, which opened on Broadway in 1927, is “perhaps the most successful and influential Broadway musical play ever written,” according to the New Grove Dictionary of Music. Musicologist Geoffrey Block writes that the work has “long since earned its coveted historical position as the foundation of the modern American musical.” Jerome Kern’s music demonstrated the range of musical styles that could be effective in musical theater, and Oscar Hammerstein II’s book encompassed serious subjects in a way no American musical ever had.

But the most historically significant aspect of the work was the way in which it portrayed race, and made racial identity a central element of the drama. It was the first major musical to present black and white performers side-by-side in the same scene. More than that, Hammerstein’s plot was intended to demonstrate—largely to white audiences—that black artistry lies at the roots of American popular music. While the outline of the story is taken from Edna Ferber’s novel, Show Boat, the treatment of race as a plotline in Show Boat the musical is largely Hammerstein’s.

While Show Boat provided a substantial amount of professional work—welcome employment for the most part—to gifted African-American performers at the time, it also perpetuated hurtful conventions. For years, certain of the black roles were played by white performers in blackface; several of the characters in the show can be seen as representing negative racial stereotypes; and the language of the book and the lyrics has been a constant target of criticism, from the original use of the “n” word to the dialect written for black characters.

Yet, for all of that, Show Boat has been a mainstay on Broadway for ninety-two years. It is the most revived musical of all time, having enjoyed nine New York revivals to date. It has been made into three feature-length films. And because it has been in the repertoire for so long, one can trace the evolution of attitudes about race relations, cultural appropriation, and the black-white color line by examining the history of productions of Show Boat. Decisions that actors and directors have made about casting, staging, character, dialect and lyrics… all of these have changed as societal attitudes about what is acceptable and unacceptable have shifted drastically over time.

Show Boat’s unprecedented success over ninety-two years resulted mainly from the quality and allure of Jerome Kern’s music. The show’s impact on the development of American musical theater comes also from its many dimensions. Show Boat had an ambitious design, striving to be many things at once: a love story (of five different couples); an epic American saga; a tale of prejudice; a vehicle for star performers; a parable demonstrating the centrality of black artistry in American popular music; and a Ziegfeld-style spectacular. It was produced by Florence Ziegfeld Jr., creator of stage spectaculars known as Ziegfeld Follies. These were lavish productions with enormous casts. He personally chose his “Glorified Beauties,” an approach to casting and to displaying the female body in theatrical productions that may not hold up to close scrutiny in today’s climate, to say the least.

Throughout the 2019 season, we feature works championed by Arthur Fiedler, especially works he performed at this venue. Fiedler was always eager to perform a range of repertoire, including new works as well as the tried-and-true. He performed excerpts from Show Boat in his very first season on the Esplanade, on Monday August 5, 1929. Show Boat had opened on Broadway less than twenty months earlier.

The Rodgers and Hammerstein Concert Library has made available a selection of songs from the original show, which they call The Show Boat Concert. It comprises the following movements:


Kern‘s orchestra for Show Boat is a “classical” orchestra, not yet incorporating saxophones or other instruments more closely allied with jazz orchestras. He quotes five songs from the show in his overture. They are, in order: Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun’; Ol’ Man River (abbreviated); Why Do I Love You?; Make Believe; and Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.

Cotton Blossom

As the show boat Cotton Blossom arrives at the river dock in Natchez, Mississippi, sometime in 1887, the townspeople gather along the levee. In the original production, there were two choruses on stage at the outset: a black chorus singing of hardship and inequities (“gettin’ no rest ‘til the Judgement Day”) and a white chorus singing in anticipation of the show (“thrills and laughter, concert after”). In our performance, since the whole purpose of the One City Choir is to present diverse voices in our community, everyone sings everything. As a result, the text has been modified to eliminate racial distinctions that would make no sense. There is a long tradition of altering the text in this way. Changes are sometimes made to accommodate practicalities of staging, but more often to reflect evolving sensibilities around race.

Where’s the Mate for Me?

This song introduces the character of the river gambler, Ravenal, and shows him to be good-natured, happy-go-lucky, and rootless. It also displays the voice of the actor playing Ravenal, a lyric tenor in the tradition of operetta. Our soloist is Matthew DiBattista. This is not Matt’s debut with the Landmarks Orchestra; he was tenor soloist when the Orchestra performed in Fenway Park in 2010. As Ravenal is about to finish his line, “I wonder where’s the mate for me,” he turns and sees Magnolia, daughter of the show boat’s captain, Andy Hawks.

Make Believe

This duet is an excellent example of how Show Boat developed plot lines in its songs rather than in dialogue exclusively, a significant innovation. Ravenal begins. His music is the song’s chorus, a sweetly sentimental tune with wide intervals, not easy to negotiate vocally. When Magnolia enters, she sings more playful music consistent with her role as an ingenue. Performing the part of “Nola” tonight is Jennifer Ellis, a favorite artist who appeared in the Landmarks Orchestra/Commonwealth Shakespeare Company production of The Boys from Syracuse in 2016. The idea of pretending to fall in love anticipates another famous Hammerstein flirtation duet by eighteen years: “If I Loved You” from Carousel.

Ol’ Man River

Show Boat’s signature tune is sometimes described as a pseudo-spiritual. Kern intended it as such. He wrote it for one of the great musical stars of the day, Paul Robeson. In fact, Robeson’s singing of the Negro spiritual “Deep River” served as a model for how Show Boat’s creators hoped Robeson would sound performing the character of Joe. But Robeson turned down the offer to appear in the premiere production, though he changed his mind about Show Boat soon thereafter. It wasn’t long before he was unable to conclude any solo vocal performance until he had satisfied audience demands for “Ol’ Man River.” If the question is, “Who Should Sing ‘Ol’ Man River?’,” tonight we have a definitive answer. Alvy Powell has sung “Ol’ Man River” for the last six US Presidents, going back to Ronald Reagan, and sang the work at the funerals of both Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush.

Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man

In what Todd Decker calls Hammerstein’s original “popular music plot,” Show Boat was to culminate in a scene featuring Paul Robeson singing spirituals and a pianist named George performing an excerpt from Rhapsody in Blue. The intention was to demonstrate to the (mostly white) audience in the Ziegfeld Theatre on Broadway in 1927 that American popular music has African-American roots. That scene did not survive to opening night. But this song carried that same message. The leading lady of the Cotton Blossom, Julie LaVerne, sings it first, as she expresses to Magnolia her feelings about her husband, Steve. That she knows the song at all comes as a surprise to Joe and his wife, the cook Queenie, because they assume it is a tune that only black folks sing. What the audience doesn’t know yet is that Julie is of mixed race, a fact that, a couple of scenes later, turns the plot in a major way. In Act II, Magnolia sings “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” as she has learned it from Julie. Magnolia is now “the white girl with a black voice,” and “cultural appropriation”—as we call it today—has become a central theme of Show Boat.

Misery Theme

In his book on Show Boat, Todd Decker writes, “Among the most surprising black-cast numbers made for Show Boat was ‘Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun’,’ a lengthy musical sequence without a trace of glorification or minstrelsy in it… just solemn, even funereal singing of a kind white audiences were swooning over at the time.” One stand-out precedent for this number was the so-called “saucer burial scene” from the play Porgy, derived from the same novel by Dubose Heyward that the Gershwins later adapted as an opera, Porgy and Bess. In this moment of the play—which opened two months before Show Boat in October, 1927—the music was an improvised spiritual. But “Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun’” was deleted before opening night in 1927, and Kern’s musical idea was never fully realized. David Coleman explains how he has created this moment for our performance: “The Misery Theme from Show Boat is a choral vocalese featuring a melancholy melody and a sequential harmony with descending bass line reminiscent of Dido’s “Lament” from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Our interpretation of this movement is to present it in the spirit of the Negro spiritual: a soloist—soprano Carolyn Saxon—singing through suffering with an improvised melody and finding hope and eventual encouragement in the support of the voices underneath, in a kind of call and response.”

You Are Love

This duet is sung at the boat’s water barrel, an agreed-upon location where the new lovers, Magnolia and Ravenal, can meet “by chance.” The urgency in their “musical love-making” comes mainly from him. As Todd Decker points out, “Ravenal’s emotions and voice are featured above Magnolia’s. The moment is not shared equally.”

Sports of Gay Chicago

This high-spirited number comes from the extended opening to Act II of Show Boat. The scene is the midway at the World’s Fair in Chicago, 1893. Six years have elapsed since the events of Act I. The music suggests a parade, with march rhythms and a variety of sections proceeding in stages.

Why Do I Love You?

One of the instant hits of Show Boat, “Why Do I Love You?” comes at the beginning of Act II during the World’s Fair scene. It reflects a relationship brimming with affection, a love which was not to last in that happy state. A relaxed and joyous foxtrot, the song is relatively easy to sing. It was intended to be taken up by amateurs at home, and it most certainly was.


Another song that Show Boat contributed to the American songbook, “Bill” has become a vehicle for a wide variety of female performers who are attracted to its subtle emotional cast. In some ways, it is the antithesis to Julie’s other hit song, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” By now, Julie has lost her man. Her voice reveals an experienced woman who knows heartbreak. Kern’s unusual creation—with lyrics mostly by P. G. Wodehouse rather than Hammerstein—somehow, miraculously, manages to be both comical and desolate.

Ol’ Man River (Reprise)

At the end of our Community Conversation last week, a member of the audience approached me to express a mild regret. During our question and answer period, she missed the opportunity to ask the panel a question: “Did we think that Ol’ Man River—the one who ‘jes’ keeps rollin’ along’— was black or white?” I was amazed by the query, partly because I had never thought of it. Both the tune and the lyric suggest to me a river that is transcendent. But if there is one lesson that our time preparing Show Boat has taught us this summer, it’s that there is a great diversity of voices in the human family, and that we are enriched when make an effort to listen to the whole choir.

“As we continue to engage this journey of life, let us strive to see one another. Not merely with our eyes, but with our hearts. Let us see the best in one another, and not simply the worst. Let us see the potential in one another, and not merely misperceptions. Let us see a bright future for one another. Let us see each other for who we are becoming. When I see you, let the smile in my heart be a reflection of the smile on your face when you see me.”

Reverend Emmett Price III

from the podcast All Rev’d Up

Christopher Wilkins was appointed Music Director of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra in the spring of 2011. Since then the orchestra has helped reaffirm founder Charles Ansbacher’s vision of making great music accessible to the whole community.

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  1. For those planning to attend, the July 31st concert has been postponed until tomorrow, August 1, 2019, at 7 PM due to anticipated inclement weather.

    Comment by Julie Ingelfinger — July 31, 2019 at 10:05 am

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