February marks Black History Month in the United States, a period of reflection on the contributions and tribulations of African Americans who have helped shape the nation. The ingenuity, creativity, and heritage of Black Americans have spoken through music for centuries in compositions, folk songs, standards, and spirituals that express Black perspectives. This month, we’ve compiled works that speak to some of the triumphs, adversities, and experiences that Black Americans have met and showcase their contributions to music as a cultural medium.

Listen to the full playlist on your favorite streaming platform today.

Billy Childs

Commissioned by pianist Inna Faliks, Pursuit started out as an interpretive parallel to “Scarbo,” the third movement of Gaspard, but quickly turned into — in composer Billy Childs’s mind — a sadly familiar American storyline, in which a black man is being pursued by either a slave catcher, a KKK lynch mob, or the modern day police. Faliks makes use of her deft, sure-handed, and dynamic technique in this interpretation.

REIMAGINE - album cover


Acclaimed pianist Inna Faliks breaks new ground with REIMAGINE on Navona Records, an homage to Beethoven and Ravel which manages to do the impossible: be breathtakingly innovative while remaining respectful to the source material.

Shall we Gather at the River
Shawn E. Okpebholo

Shall we Gather at the River opens Shawn E. Okpebholo’s latest release from Navona Records with a tender performance by baritone Will Liverman and pianist Paul Sánchez. A serene and dynamic spiritual hymn written during the civil war, this piece serves as a hopeful anthem celebrating community, and a foreshadowing of the hope of heaven, expressed later in this collection of songs.

LORD, HOW COME ME HERE? - album cover


On LORD, HOW COME ME HERE?, composer Shawn Okpebholo turns the mirror of history on today’s society with his own work and a reimagined collection of spirituals by enslaved Africans and American folk hymns that draws upon music from the past to critique contemporary racial injustices in the United States and around the globe.

Plenty Good Room
Maria Thompson Corley

An adaptation of an arrangement Corley made for the Tallahassee Boys Choir in the early 1990’s, Plenty Good Room bursts with bluesy piano lines and soulful vocal flair. Corley is joined by pianist Maria Clark in this recording of a spiritual that comments on the inclusivity of God’s kingdom and how it accepts all beings who were rejected by modern society.

SOUL SANCTUARY - album cover


Soprano Maria Clark and pianist Maria Thompson Corley navigate the intense emotion, scars of suffering, and religious passion in the hymns and gospels on SOUL SANCTUARY from Navona Records. Featuring empowering spirituals from the past two centuries, the duo brings to life religious songs that have stood the test of time and find deep relevance today.

Portrait of a Queen
Carlos Simon

This piece traces the evolution of black people in America through the lens of the black woman. Using one figurative character who represents strength, courage, and selflessness, this “queen” will transform from her journey as a leader in Africa to a slave on an American plantation, to a disenfranchised citizen subject to Jim Crow laws and finally to the strong matriarch found in many churches presently. Dramatic spoken word written by Courtney D. Ware poetically explains the thoughts and feelings of her character while her musical portrait is revealed.

“I really want people to think and understand that we can “change the world,” but it has to be on a local stage first. I want this album to hopefully begin conversations and invoke action for better.”

Carlos Simon

Carlos Simon

The Inside Story: Carlos Simon and MY ANCESTOR’S GIFT

The Green Double: II. Dance Reflections
Anthony R. Green

Dance Reflections by composer Anthony R. Green is a reflection of the trials and the successes of Phillis Wheatley, Harriet Jacobs, and Mum Bet, and how they must have danced when they all became free and completed incredible feats. All three of these women have connections to Massachusetts; Wheatley was purchased in Boston, Jacobs escaped enslavement in North Carolina and reached Cambridge, and Mum Bett sued for her freedom in Sheffield.

“I want to be a vessel for wonderful people’s wonderful stories. I live for the moments in which I am giving life to the creations of composers – good humans writing meaningful works of music; I’m the happiest when I am sharing their musical stories with the world.”

Orlando Cela

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