A combined mass choir of 160 singers from 20 choirs in Cincinnati, Dayton and Yellow Springs have been rehearsing all summer for the premiere of an oratorio hailing the memory of a leading figure in the Civil Rights Movement, Bayard Rustin (1912-87).
The choral work, “Bayard Rustin: The Man Behind the Dream,” was composed by Steve Milloy, a Cincinnati composer, conductor and an alumnus of Miami University and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Four performances — three in the Yellow Springs/Dayton area and one in Cincinnati — and numerous events from Cincinnati to Yellow Springs will celebrate Rustin’s life as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, which took place Aug. 28 1963 — 55 years ago today.
Rustin was a proponent of non-violence and non-discrimination, in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But because he was an openly gay man living in mid-20th-century America, he was forced to remain in the background of the movement.
Rustin, a tenor, attended Wilberforce College in Wilberforce, Ohio, from 1932-34 on a music scholarship. He traveled throughout the U.S. with the acclaimed Wilberforce Quartet.
Milloy, who is artistic director of the Cincinnati Men’s Chorus and music director at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Bellevue, KY, says he was inspired to write the oratorio while singing in choruses and finding that there was little repertoire about the African-American experience.
“(We) kept doing pieces about Matthew Shepard, Harvey Milk, and I came to the realization that we were not seeing any pieces about people that look like me, people that I could look up to,” he said.
Guest soloists will be La’Shelle Allen, mezzo soprano and Keith Dean, bass-baritone.
The combined choirs are being rehearsed by Catherine Roma, founder and artistic director of the World House Choir. Participants include Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus, Cincinnati Men’s Chorus, MUSE, Cincinnati’s Women’s Choir, several area church choirs and the Martin Luther King Coalition Chorale.
The choir’s website describes Milloy’s music as “a rich variety of musical genres from African-American Spirituals to reggae to folk music to rap and dramatic spoken word. Rustin had a beautiful tenor voice and one movement opens with a recording of his singing the spiritual, ‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.'”
The three Dayton area performances will be conducted by Jeremy Winston of Central State University and the final concert in Cincinnati will be conducted by Chris Miller, Minister of Music at Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church.
In addition to the four performances of the Oratorio, there will be lectures, films and other events in numerous area venues that will explore aspects of Bayard Rustin life and his relevance today.
The Cincinnati concert will take place at 4 p.m. Sunday, September 9, House of Joy Christian Ministries, 5912 Hamilton Ave.
Cincinnati events include:
•Documentary: “Brother Outsider” and Panel Discussion, Shannon Isaacs, James Newby, Martha Viehmann. Tuesday, 6:30 p.m. September 4, Harriet Beecher Stowe House: 2950 Gilbert Ave.
•Dr. Jared Leighton, Guest Lecturer, “The Role of LGBT Civil Rights–Black Power Activists in Advancing LGBT Rights.” Wednesday, 7 p.m., September 5, Xavier University: Arrupe Overlook (1st floor, main floor) Gallagher Student Center. Parking: Cintas Center, 3800 Victory Parkway.
•Dr. Jared Leighton, Guest Lecturer, “The Role of LGBT Civil Rights–Black Power Activists in Advancing LGBT Rights”. Saturday, 4 p.m. September 8, Harriet Beecher Stowe House: 2950 Gilbert Street
All events are free. To see the entire schedule, including the other three concerts, visit bayardthemanthedream.org or worldhousechoir.org.