The Tulsa Opera has cancelled a piece written for a concert commemorating the city’s 1921 race massacre after the composer of one of the four pieces for the event declined to delete a curse on America.
New York composer Daniel Roumain revealed Sunday on social media that he had been commissioned to write one of four libretti for mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves for the Tulsa Opera’s “Greenwood Overcomes” concert on May 1.
Graves, who is Black, objected to the final line after “God Bless America” — “God Damn America” — in his “They Always Want To Kill Us” libretto, and Opera officials demanded it be revised. Roumain balked.
“I am a strong supporter of all Black lives, Black language, and Black creativity as a Black woman.” The Opera released a statement from Graves. “Strong lyrics don’t bother me, but I didn’t think they aligned with my personal beliefs. I couldn’t think of a genuine way to express the lyrics as they were presented.”
The Opera’s artistic director, Tobias Picker, “suggested I omit the word ‘Damn.'” In a Facebook post, Roumains said of Tulsa County, “I declined, explaining that is how I felt about this county.” “As a result, they shot me.”
“It is deeply disappointing that Mr. Roumain has turned an artistic dispute into a racial debate,” Picker said in a statement released by an Opera spokeswoman.
“All 22 Black composers and eight Black musicians, as well as our concert co-presenter, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, are dedicated to the spirit of the ‘Greenwood Overcomes’ concert,” Picker said.
Roumain will be paid his $1,500 fee, but the Opera will not perform his piece, according to Kelli Bruer, a spokeswoman for the company. Roumain retains ownership of the piece and may have it done elsewhere, according to her.