Evelyn Simpson Curenton was born into one of the most musically gifted families of all time, and her talent still shined through. She is one of the most sought-after composers and musicians of her time. On this episode, Angela walks us through two of Curenton’s personal favorite spiritual pieces: Sinner Please Don’t Let this Harvest Pass and Oh Glory.
Music Plays (00:05):
Angela Brown (00:05):
Hello, I’m Angela Brown.
Joshua Thompson (00:16):
And I’m Joshua Thompson…
And this is Melanated Moments in Classical Music.
Angela Brown (00:24):
You know, Joshua today. I’m bringing someone to the fold that has been an inspiration to me in my classical music journey.
Joshua Thompson (00:34):
–of all the people you could pick from, and I’m sure the list is huge. Isn’t it?
Angela Brown (00:39):
The list is huge!
Joshua Thompson (00:39):
So the fact that it’s made the cut– it must be pretty significant, pretty important.
Angela Brown (00:43):
Joshua Thompson (00:44):
So don’t keep me or the peoples waiting; who we got?
Angela Brown (00:46):
Well, I’m going to talk about Evelyn Simpson Curenton. She’s an African-American composer, pianist, organist, and vocalist. She’s also a noted artistic director, lecturer, producer, and clinician. Her versatile skills make her one of the most sought after musicians around her talents have led her around the globe, with performances in China, France, England, Italy, Australia, and a European tour. Get this one, baby, a European tour with Bernice Johnson, the founding member of Sweet Honey in the Rock! Baby, you know we got to do a Melanated Moment on Sweet Honey in the Rock, whoo!
Joshua Thompson (01:31):
Just one Melanated Moment? That’s a Melanated Masterpiece of Everything, isn’t it?
Angela Brown (01:36):
You know, one of the reasons why I know so much about her is because early on, she was commissioned to do arrangements for a Carnegie Hall concert, featuring Kathleen Battle, Jesse Norman and the chorus and orchestra of New York’s acclaimed Metropolitan Opera withJames Levein at the helm. Ms. Curenton, herself–cause I have chance to call her up and talk to her–
Joshua Thompson (02:03):
All these people who are just prolific everywhere, of course, you either have them on speed dial or you’ve had dinner with them. I ain’t mad at you though.
Angela Brown (02:14):
Oh okay, okay, okay!–[Laughter] Ms. Curenton stated– I asked her what were two of her favorite pieces on the CD– And she said: Oh, Glory and Sinner, Please Don’t Let this Harvest Pass. She said that the authenticity and the deep spiritual delivery of Jesse Norman and Kathleen Battle were so special in these two arrangements. And it was just an awesome, awe-inspiring moment for her because, you know– let me give you a little bit more background on Ms. Curenton. She’s a native of Philadelphia and she began playing the piano at the age of two. When were you playing the piano, boo?
Joshua Thompson (02:52):
She got a couple years on me. I didn’t start til I was five!
Angela Brown (02:57):
Ah, okay, okay. And she began her studies at age of five. Aha!– There you go. By the time she was nine, she was accompanying her renowned musical family, The Singing Simpsons of Philadelphia.
Joshua Thompson (03:11):
Their whole family is pretty–
Angela Brown (03:12):
Joshua Thompson (03:12):
I’m more familiar with–
Angela Brown (03:14):
Joshua Thompson (03:14):
Her sister, right.
Angela Brown (03:17):
Ms. Marietta Simpson, fabulous mental soprano. And now she’s–she’s still singing, but she’s also teaching at Indiana University. So I ain’t mad at Ms Marietta!
Joshua Thompson (03:29):
Oh. But back to Evelyn–
Angela Brown (03:31):
Yes. And distinguished musicians that she’s worked with have been: the late, Duke Ellington–
Joshua Thompson (03:37):
Thought I saw that, yea.
Angela Brown (03:39):
Mhmm– George Shirley; her late sister, Joyce Simpson; Hubert Laws, who plays the flute on the CD; Denise Graves; John Blake; she mentions me, Angela Brown of the Metropolitan Opera,– Uh– Janice Chandler-Eteme and David Murray have all performed works of Ms. Simpson’s. And uh, several of her hymn arrangements have been put into the acclaimed African-American heritage hymnal– which I didn’t know– and with songs ranging from the pre-Civil War to contemporary music.
Joshua Thompson (04:15):
So that’s easily 150-175 years worth of–
Angela Brown (04:18):
Joshua Thompson (04:18):
— That’s what I find to be really fascinating about her. You’ve listed so many different vocalists and musicians, composers who are dynamite in their own, right. But she’s appealing to and writing for and collaborating with people who are strictly within the genre, but also outside of it and showing that blending of it. To me, I think that is the best Melanated Moment. I think, right?
Angela Brown (04:41):
There you go! And one thing that I have found: that– as an African-American musician myself– we draw on every color on our palette.
Joshua Thompson (04:51):
We do–very naturally, so–
Angela Brown (04:51):
We do! Very naturally! I mean, you got your church, you have your soul, R&B. You have, um–
Blues, jazz, classical,
Angela Brown (05:01):
You have all of these–and we boiled them down to make a wonderful stew. So if I was to give encouragement to any singer out there, melanated or not: draw on everything that makes you, you. And that is something that Ms. Curenton has done. And we’re going to listen to her two favorite pieces: Sinner, Please Don’t Let this Harvest Pass and Old Glory.
Joshua Thompson (05:30):
So I tell you what, we’ve got a nice little bit of some background info. Let’s just cut to the chase. Let’s listen to these pieces cause they are– they’re pretty– they’re very accessible in the sense that I find them to be relatable, but they’re also short enough where you can listen to it two or three times in a row. So we’re going to let these pieces play out a little bit longer than we usually do. Starting with the first one: Sinner, Please Don’t Let this Harvest Pass.
Music plays (05:58):
[“Sinner, Please Don’t Let this Harvest Pass,” sung by Jesse Norman]
Angela Brown (08:28):
Joshua Thompson (08:28):
Speechless over here. Wow. Stunning, stunning. So automatically my ear goes to the orchestration. However, this one I couldn’t, because Jesse Norman’s control–
Angela Brown (08:39):
Joshua Thompson (08:41):
It was–it was– you’re mesmerized by not just her voice, but the words that she’s evoking with it–
Angela Brown (08:48):
And her presence–
Joshua Thompson (08:48):
Very much so, very much so–
Angela Brown (08:50):
–her presence. She’s so Regal and just the emotion that she gives while she’s performing this. You can tell she felt every word, and it was an experience for the audience.
Joshua Thompson (09:01):
I bet. Okay, so now let’s hear your second selection: Oh, Glory, featuring the iconic Kathleen Battle.
Music plays (09:32):
[“Oh, Glory,” sung by Kathleen Battle]
Joshua Thompson (13:13):
Do we need to say anything about–
Angela Brown (13:14):
Joshua Thompson (13:14):
— cause she– her work speaks for herself, and it always has.
Angela Brown (13:19):
Beautiful, bird-like– just soaring, gorgeous voice. And, and, and she too, you could tell that she was into every word she uttered. And that is one thing about the spirituals. Whether you sing them from the perspective of the slave or you sing them from the perspective of being a congregant in a congregation, you can’t sing those words without them meaning something.
Joshua Thompson (13:47):
For me, It’s no coincidence that genres like jazz and blues draw right from spirituals because you’re not– Unless you’ve lived the blues, you can’t sing about ’em. No one’s gonna believe you. And it’s very much the same with this. Angela, thank you. Cause this, I thought was a phenomenal selection because, not only did you highlight Evelyn Simpson, but you did so in a manner that highlights just how broad her reach has been.
Angela Brown (14:12):
Exactly. And you can still hear and see her and touch her and thank her–
Joshua Thompson (14:17):
Angela Brown (14:18):
–for her contribution to the American quilt of music.
Joshua Thompson (14:22):
The American quilts, Right.
Angela Brown (14:24):
Yes! So, I’m Angela Brown…
Joshua Thompson (14:26):
And I’m Joshua Thompson…
And this has been Melanated Moments in Classical Music.
End Credits (14:32):
Melanated Moments in Classical Music is a production of Classical Music Indy. Our Producer is Ezra Bakker Trupiano. Our production intern is Auboni Hart. Our theme music was composed by Laura Karpman. Melanated Moments in Classical Music is proud to partner with CAAPA, the Coalition for African-Americans in the Performing Arts; supporting black classical musicians, opera singers, youth and others in the performing arts by bringing color to the classics. Learn more at four –that’s, the number 4caapa.org. Classical Music Indy- The Streaming and Podcasting is made possible by the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable foundation. Melanated Moments in Classical Music is proud to partner with Morning Brown Incorporated; working to bridge the gap between accessible, live music programs and underserved individuals, schools, and communities where the offering of classical music is rare or the cost of experiencing classical music is prohibitive. Learn more at morningbrown.org.
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