CONTACT: WINSTON BARCLAY
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0073; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: Feb. 11, 2000
'God's Trombones' brings poetry of James Weldon Johnson
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University Theatres Gallery
series will present "God's Trombones," a theatrical staging of James Weldon
Johnson's poetry during African-American History Month, at 8 p.m. Thursday
through Saturday, Feb. 24-26; and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 27 in Theatre B of
the University of Iowa Theatre Building.
The production is directed by graduate student William
Caise, with contributions by costume designer Tammy Laisnez, musical director
Anthony Currin and lighting designer Troy Hornung.
The text of "God's Trombones" is drawn from Johnson's
"God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse," published in 1927. Although
he was an agnostic, Johnson used these poems to pay tribute to the expressive,
musical, oratorical tradition of American black preaching. He was inspired
by a trip he made through rural Georgia as a freshman in college.
"I feel that the significance of the show lies in
the important role that the Preacher has historically played in our culture,
with one of the clearest and strongest examples being Martin Luther King,"
Caise explains. "The Preacher has historically been a leader who, like King,
addresses the needs and concerns of the community in an unflinching manner,
and I feel that Black History Month is an appropriate time to celebrate these
often unsung heroes in word and song."
Johnson, who was born in 1871, is an important and
versatile figure in American literary culture and social history. As a writer,
he produced poetry, fiction, essays and lyrics. He was also a pioneer in black
publishing and an early leader in the NAACP, and his writing was a strong
influence on the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.
Unlike many American people of color in his generation,
Johnson did not come from a recent familial experience of slavery. His father
was born free of mixed ancestry and his mother was from the West Indies, of
French and black Haitian descent. And yet the inequalities of post-slavery
American society were evident in his early life. In order for him to receive
a high-school education, his parents had to send him to Atlanta, because there
was no high school available to blacks in his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla.,
only a few years before the turn of the century.
After graduating from college, Johnson returned to
his hometown to become the principal of a segregated school, and during that
time became the first black lawyer in Florida history. In 1895 Johnson founded
the first black newspaper in the United States, "The Daily American," in which
he published editorials on racial issues.
Johnson had written poetry since his college days,
and in 1900 he wrote the poem "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which, set to music
by his brother, became the "Negro National Anthem" decades later at the beginning
of the Civil Rights Movement. Together the brothers wrote more than 200 songs
for Broadway musicals.
In the early years of the 20th century Johnson served
his country as the ambassador to Venezuela, Nicaragua and the Azores, before
completing a novel about "passing for white," "The Autobiography of an ExColored
Man" in 1912. This book became an influential text in the Harlem Renaissance
of the 1920s.
Johnson was also the first black secretary of the
NAACP, where he worked for almost 15 years. Johnson taught Creative Literature
at Fisk University in Nashville from 1930 until his death in a car-train accident
in 1938. He was buried holding a copy of "God's Trombones," his personal favorite
of the books he had written.
Admission to the Gallery series production will be
$5 ($3 for UI students, senior citizens and youth 17 and younger) at the door.
For UI arts news and calendar updates, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/~uiowacr
on the world wide web.