Carnegie Hall Program Notes
by Alicia Hall Moran & Jason Moran
Alicia Hall Moran notes:
Tonight we are gathering to recognize the epic movement of people — American people, Black people — from the Southern United States and those lands where generations toiled in unremunerated labor to all points North and West. Together, we explore a rough chapter in American history — a long chapter, roughly 1910–1970: the Great Migration. Six million African Americans left the South during this period. Through Two Wings, we settle into the musical worlds defined by this mass movement of people, and we give thanks for the opportunities our great-grandparents and grandparents and parents struggled to deliver to us.
The Great Migration shaped my family — and continues to shape my family— just as it transformed the entire nation and continues to echo in the present. I asked my mother, Carole F. Hall—the family historian—about our Southern roots:
Our family’s Southern history is rooted in Athens, Georgia. My father’s great-great grandparents, Hannah and William Hall, were sold at auction in Augusta as children and taken to Athens in bondage to Dr. Edward Ware and his wife, Margaret. William and Hannah eventually married and had four children: Edward, Rebecca, Rachel, and Mary, my father’s great- grandmother. Mary’s daughter, Alice Virginia Sansom, was my father’s grandmother. She was eight years old when all three Hall generations in Athens — never sold or separated by the Wares — were emancipated in 1865.
In Athens, site of the University of Georgia, educational opportunities for newly freed African Americans flourished. Alice attended the secondary Knox Institute and Industrial School, built on land donated by three wealthy African Americans, and Atlanta University, the first Black graduate school. In 1878, she married Rev. William D. Johnson (1842–1908), an African Methodist Episcopal Church administrator and orator. Born free in Calvert County, Maryland, he earned two degrees from Lincoln University before settling in Athens. In 1880, he completed his doctorate in divinity.
Their children — Mamie, Decker, Hall, Susan, and Alice Irene (my grandmother) — also graduated from the Knox Institute and spread their wings. Mamie raised a family in Chicago. Susie became a beautician in Philadelphia. After Decker graduated from Tuskegee University, he became a Pullman porter and then a Postal Service clerk in New York City. In 1904, Rev. Johnson was appointed president of Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina — the first Black college in that state. Hall, who was a gifted violinist, entered Allen University as a freshman and graduated in 1909. He went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania and the Hahn School of Music in Philadelphia. By 1921, Hall Johnson had become a force in the Harlem Renaissance and had toured with stars such as James Reese Europe. He played in the pit in Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle’s Broadway hit Shuffle Along. After a year (1924–1925) at the Institute of Musical Art (later part of The Juilliard School), he organized the Hall Johnson Choir to honor the traditional spirituals sung by his grandmother, Mary Hall.
Meanwhile my grandmother, Alice Irene Johnson (1890–1983), had married Robert Foster of Athens. On the eve of the Great Depression, widowed with their five children — William Robert, Mary Ellen, Alfred (my father), Marcus, and Celeste — she became the last of her siblings to leave the South. She migrated to Philadelphia, before eventually leaving for Pasadena, California, in the 1940s. Pasadena had a civic culture comparable to Athens. It was Hall Johnson who recommended the move. Just as he had been the first of his siblings to relocate to Philadelphia and then to New York, he was the first to discover Southern California. He traveled to Los Angeles and lived there periodically, scoring films, producing plays, and directing performances of the Hall Johnson Choir.
Alfred Foster (1922–2009) discovered California when the Navy shipped him from Philadelphia to San Diego towards the end of WWII. He met your grandmother, Constance Barrick (1923–2009), at Cheyney State Teacher’s College near Philadelphia. His grandfather, Rev. William D. Johnson, and her grandfather, George Barrick, were both born in Maryland two years apart. But George was enslaved, and when freedom came — with neither opportunities nor education — he headed North, passed Philadelphia, and kept walking until he found steady employment as a gardener on a Main Line estate. It was there that he married Elizabeth Long.
Three of their children survived: Edward, Herbert, and Clara. Edward married Vaunita Allen, your great-grandmother, and created a family business that sent all 10 of their children to college. Your Grandma Connie left Cheyney to join the war effort at Sun Shipyard. She became the first — and for decades the only — one in her family to leave the Northeast. She and Alfred bought a home in Pasadena in 1951, and he went on to become a psychologist in the Los Angeles public schools.
Likewise, I grew up hearing detailed sagas from the Civil Rights Movement that my father’s parents, Ira D. Hall Sr. and Rubye Mae Hibler Hall, worked tirelessly to uphold in the state of Oklahoma. They faced obstruction at every level and still managed to earn degrees from Langston University and the University of Oklahoma (my grandmother going on to earn a master’s degree as well as sitting as the first African American appointee to the board of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education), raise six children, and fight all forms of discrimination.
The boldness of those who were part of the Great Migration amazes me. Looking closely at every person who pursued a better life, each becomes heroic — every one. Tonight, Jason and I present a kaleidoscope that examines the output of artists from our jukebox on the subject. Gospel, folk, rock ‘n’ roll, opera, Broadway, jazz, orchestral, and chamber music are all represented here because in all of them is the Black musical imagination that continues to shape the cultural and political landscape of this country.
We express our overwhelming gratitude for the lives of the many brilliant artists (hundreds of them) whose music brought our people through the storms — the music that paved the sound waves our spirits ride on, and the music that fortifies each of us on the journeys we take every day. We recognize our music in the work and fascination of other artists, just as we use our freedom to explore the ways in which we gather and build with tools we’ve found along our way in the New World. We trace a narrative written in these songs — they tell their own story about the movement of people, about great artists who sought a community and found a home in Black music.
— Alicia Hall Moran
Jason Moran notes:
There are moments in jazz history that burn brightly. When pianist James P. Johnson recorded his “Carolina Shout” in 1921, the father of the “Harlem Stride” piano style was here to stay. Any pianists uptown would challenge each other with “Carolina Shout,” from Duke Ellington to Johnson’s own pupil Fats Waller. When trumpeter Louis Armstrong’s intro and cadenza to “West End Blues” were heard, the performance became a testament to Armstrong’s precision and inventiveness. His solo has been learned by legions of trumpeters for generations. Lionel Hampton’s recording of “Flying Home” featured the rousing “Texas Tenor” Illinois Jacquet. His solo became a hit, becoming a standard in the saxophone repertoire. Each of these pieces reflect a place. They give us a sense of the hood and the air, the cause and the effect, effectively the call and the response.
Cane (named for Cane River, Louisiana) examines my ancestry leading back to a matriarch in the mid–18th century, Maria Therese Coincoin. She birthed ten children by her slave master’s son and upon his deathbed, he granted freedom to her and a few of the children. She in turn began the Melrose Plantation, eventually purchasing the freedom of her remaining children and becoming a powerful businesswoman. That plantation is a historical landmark. The tension in the land is felt in every sway of the moss that hangs from the pecan trees. Louisiana and Texas are not passive landscapes. These are not passive songs.
I grew up in Houston’s Third Ward, a neighborhood rich in African American cultural memory and scholarship. Most of my family lived in the zip code, understanding the power and necessity of neighborhoods like this. From Houston to Harlem is not an easy transition, but music solved the puzzles. For fear of being alone, I began telling all of my musician friends in Houston that they, too, should come to New York, bringing the brisket and the blues, and helping to shape the sound of the city.
For more than a century, African American musicians have stepped onto the Carnegie Hall stage to demand the attention of audiences. In Alicia’s bloodline are musicians like choral conductor and arranger Hall Johnson, and vocalist Al Hibbler. Each of them performed at Carnegie Hall with fellow musicians James Reese Europe and Duke Ellington.
Today, Alicia and I stand here with a group of thinkers that help form the constellation in the same way that marks down the history. Artists are always there to “mark it down.” The art becomes the record keeper. Carnegie Hall is still here — we’re ready to etch our mark in the walls.
— Jason Moran
Two Wings: The Music of Black America in Migration
is dedicated in loving memory to ...
Bennie Ruth Chester (1919–2003)
Joseph P. Chester (1919–1976)
Constance Barrick Foster (1923–2009)
Alfred Harold Foster (1922–2009)
Ira DeVoyd Hall Sr. (1905–1989)
Rubye Mae Hibler Hall (1912–2003)
Francis Hall Johnson (1888–1970)
“Mama Clay” Claudia Llorens Moran (1930–2017)
Mary Lou Chester Moran (1949–2004)
... AND OUR TEACHERS ...
Muhal Richard Abrams (1930–2017)
Betty Allen (1927–2009)
Jaki Byard (1922–1999)
Andrew Hill (1931–2007)
Shirley Verrett (1931–2010)
Warren George Rock Wilson (1934–2011)