February 20, 2020


Nkeiru Okoye’s New Symphonic Experience,Black Bottom, Makes Its World Premiere With Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) will present the world premiere of a new work by composer Nkeiru Okoye [pronounced “in KEAR roo oh KOY yeh”]. Entitled Black Bottom, this 22 minute composition for full orchestra and four African American solo voices will be the centerpiece of the 42nd annual Classical Roots concerts March 6 – 7, 2020 at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall. This DSO-commissioned work, supported with a grant from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation* in celebration of Classical Roots and the Orchestra Hall Centennial Season, will be conducted by Maestro Thomas Wilkins. Dr. Okoye depicts joys, sorrows and interrelated stories about the historic Detroit neighborhoods of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley through a series of responses to archival photographs. French colonial settlers named Black Bottom (“Fond Noir”) for its richly hued soil. During WWI, the area became home to many Eastern European immigrants. Then, with the Great Migration and influx of southern African Americans, it became one of Detroit's most lively Black neighborhoods. It was torn down by highway construction projects in the mid-20th century; displacing thousands of residents.


Black Bottom was developed as the result of a nearly one-year-long research project. A display of the archival photographs that triggered the composer’s creative response, and a portion of the Black Bottom Street View Exhibit, will be on display in the second floor atrium at Orchestra Hall. Black Bottom audiences are invited and encouraged to listen for references to these photographs in the composition. Dr. Okoye refers to them as “embedded messages.” These are snatches of words and phrases she collected during her interviews and subsequently transformed into wordless musical motifs. For instance, in Mvt. II: Two Shops on Hastings, which conjures the image of the once vibrant thoroughfare, the listener will hear “Joe’s Record Shop” and “It’s at Hastings at Mack” repeated in homage to the very popular record store but spoken by musical instruments.

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