Tulsa Opera fires composer of Greenwood massacre piece

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The Tulsa Opera has canceled a piece written for a concert on the city’s 1921 race massacre after the composer of one of four pieces for the event refused a request to remove a curse on America from the piece.

In social media postings, New York composer Daniel Roumain said Sunday he was commissioned to write for mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves one of four libretti for a “Greenwood Overcomes” concert scheduled for a May 1 performance by the Tulsa Opera.

Roumain balked, however, when Graves, who is Black, objected to the final line after the line “God Bless America” — “God Damn America” — in his “They Still Want To Kill Us” libretto and Opera officials wanted it changed.

“As a Black woman, I am a huge supporter of all Black Lives, Black expression and creativity.” Graves said in a statement issued by the Opera. “I don’t have trouble with strong lyrics, but I felt that they did not line up with my personal values. I could not find an honest place to express the lyrics as they were presented.”

Tobias Picker, the Opera’s creative director, “suggested I omit the word ‘Damn.’ I refused, explaining that is how I felt about this county,” Roumains said of Tulsa County in a Facebook posting. “So, they fired me.”

In a statement issued by an Opera spokeswoman, Picker said: “It is extremely disappointing that Mr. Roumain has turned an artistic disagreement into a racial debate.

The Opera, “Denyce Graves and all of the other 22 Black composers and eight Black artists, as well as our concert co-presenter, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, are committed to the spirit of the ‘Greenwood Overcomes’ concert,” Picker said.

Kelli Bruer, the Opera spokeswoman, said Roumain would be paid his $1,500 fee, but the Opera will not perform his piece. Roumain still owns the piece and can have it performed elsewhere, she said.

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