Event Archives

Songs in Flight

April 3, 2024
Hayti Heritage Center

Presented by Duke Arts Presents

In 2019, Cornell University started “Freedom on the Move,” a database of “runaway ads” from the United States’ early newspapers—names, dates, descriptions, rewards. The database notes that it compiles “thousands of stories of resistance that have never been accessible in one place. Created to control the movement of enslaved people, the ads ultimately preserved the details of individual lives—their personality, appearance, and life story. Taken collectively, the ads constitute a detailed, concise, and rare source of information about the experiences of enslaved people.” (Cornell Department of History’s Edward Baptist, primary investigator for FOTM) These advertisements also provide a testament to their bravery: each of these people in the over 30,000 entries attempted self-emancipation.

Songs in Flight is a living monument to these people and the history exposed in “Freedom on the Move.” With a song cycle composed by Shawn Okpebholo and texts and poems curated by Duke University professor Tsitsi Ella Jaji, three prominent African American musicians bring these stories to life: soprano Karen Slack (Metropolitan Opera), countertenor Reginald Mobley (NY Philharmonic), and baritone Will Liverman (Metropolitan Opera). Additional material curated by Jaji includes work by poets Crystal Simone Smith (Duke University) and Tyehimba Jess (Pulitzer Prize winner) that contextualizes and responds to selected primary source materials from the FOTM database. Director Kimille Howard (Metropolitan Opera) adds invaluable visual elements in the form of projection and lighting.

NY Times Review: Songs in Flight

Production Credits

Karen Slack, soprano
Reginald Mobley, countertenor
Will Liverman, baritone
Howard Watkins, piano

Shawn Okpebholo, composer

Tsitsi Ella Jaji, text curator
featuring works by Tsitsi Ella Jaji, Crystal Simone Smith and Tyehimba Jess
Kimille Howard
, director
Gabriel Vega Weissman, associate director

Conceived and commissioned by Sparks & Wiry Cries

Songs in Flight was conceived by Sparks & Wiry Cries, and Co-Commissioned by Sparks & Wiry Cries and the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. It was premiered at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in their Grace Rainy Rogers Auditorium for the MetLiveArts Series, on January 12th, 2023.

  • Wed, Apr 3, 2024 at 7:30pm

Hayti Heritage Center
804 Old Fayetteville Street
Durham, NC 27701


Reserved Seating

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