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WTIU Presents Crooked Stick: Songs In A Strange Land


American slave spirituals of the 18th and 19th centuries often evoke feelings of raw power, deep empathy, pathos, and poetry. These important archival songs get an imaginative retelling in a new concert presentation, featuring internationally-acclaimed mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson in an intimate performance.

Crooked Stick: Songs in a Strange Land is a one-hour concert event originally recorded before a live audience in the WTIU studios as a new addition to unique collections on Black music at the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

The performance features Simpson, who has toured with the New York Philharmonic and the Washington National Opera, and includes contemporary arrangements of standard Negro spiritual music infused with modern jazz, Latin and African rhythms. Teaming with Simpson to craft these modern arrangements is musical director Tyron Cooper, an Emmy Award-winning composer/arranger and ethnomusicologist at Indiana University.

The project title, “crooked stick,” references an old maxim celebrating those who could “hit a straight lick with a crooked stick”—or overcome remarkable difficulties to do remarkable things—in this case referencing those enslaved Black people in the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries who created a distinct, sacred music that reflected their religious beliefs and their hope, strength, and resistance during chattel slavery.

Today the music of Crooked Stick: Songs in a Strange Land is still sparking remarkable things by motivating today’s top musicians to blend modern rhythms and harmonies with these old narratives in ways that uplift audiences and ignite the spirit of humanity.

Crooked Stick: Songs in a Strange Land premieres Thursday, February 6 at 9pm.