At our Virtual Summer Workshop (July 8-10), Kenneth Overton presents “Embedded in the Soil and Sung from the SOUL: The American Negro Spiritual” that will explore the performance practices and relevance of the Spiritual in today’s world.
The NATS Virtual Summer Workshop is July 8-10. See schedule and details.
We’re thrilled you’re part of the NATS Virtual Summer Workshop lineup! Please tell us a little about yourself, and what you’ll be sharing with us during your session.
I am the oldest of three kids born into a non-musical family from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I will be sharing my love for the spiritual, and hopefully encourage everyone to embrace, program and share this brilliant and beautiful art form.
This year’s Summer Workshop theme is “Light the Spark: Inspiring Diverse Repertoire.” NATS aims to create an environment where our voice teaching community has the tools and knowledge to grow as individuals and pass that along to their students. Why do you think it is important to explore diverse rep, especially with all that has happened in the past year?
It’s so important for teachers to remove the fear of diverse rep. I think if we approach it in a way where it’s for everyone, then our students will feel the freedom to learn and program it. However, if they don't know that it’s available to them, then the music doesn’t get performed and the stigma continues.
When did your relationship with American Negro Spirituals begin? Are there any common misconceptions about the genre?
I actually grew up singing in the Baptist Church, and that was my first exposure to the spiritual. The Baptists actually adopted the Negro Spiritual and the first official music of the Baptist denomination. However, Hearing Jessye Norman sing them as part of a recital I saw as a teenager really changed my life. As far as misconceptions, I would say there are two that I would like to clear up. First is Spirituals and Gospel music are two ENTIRELY different things and genres of music. The second would be that spirituals are only to be sung by African-Americans.
Those are great things to clarify! If a workshop attendee is eager to start learning more today about spirituals, what resources might you suggest?
YouTube is an amazing and FREE resource. A few of my favorite artists who I feel interpret the spiritual brilliantly are mezzo-soprano Florence Quivar and baritone Robert McFerrin Sr. (Bobby McFerrin's father), and of course Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price and Barbara Hendricks. The choral arrangements of Moses Hogan are also a great way to start.
When reflecting back on past performances where you’ve sung a spiritual, do you have a favorite memory or moment?
There are many, as I have toured with the American Spiritual Ensemble with Dr. Everett McCorvey for five years... Seeing America, Spain, Ecuador and many other places... In my solo concert career, a performance in La Plata, Argentina comes to mind. A beautiful elderly Argentinian woman came up to me after the concert with tears in her eyes, and she took her rosary off of her neck and put it around mine… without saying a word. But she and I understood.
Are you looking forward to attending any other sessions at the Virtual Summer Workshop yourself?
Since this will be my first time attending a NATS workshop other than being in the competition, I am planning to attend as many [sessions] as humanly possible.
We’re lucky to have you join us! What’s on the horizon for you? Any performances planned?
A few years ago, I recorded a CD of spirituals and art songs by African American composers, and I am looking forward to beginning the next recording project of spirituals with arrangements by living composers.
Sounds great! We’ll keep an eye out for your next project. Thanks for sharing with us.
NATS is also pleased to offer the Mentored Teaching Experience as part of the Virtual Summer Workshop.
For a $75 fee, participants secure a session with one of our mentor teachers, which offers mentees a chance to gain valuable feedback and re-energize their teaching. Please note: all participants must also register for our Summer Workshop.