Listening to "Tom-Tom": Shirley Graham’s 1932 Opera, April 4, 8 PM Brooklyn, NY

Shirley Graham
(Carl Van Vechten)

Thursday, April 4, 2019, 8pm 
National Sawdust, 80 North 6th Street, Brooklyn, NY

Details and ticket information here:

On June 30, 1932, ten thousand people entered a lakefront stadium in Cleveland to hear a world premiere: Tom-Tom, an opera by a young African American woman named Shirley Graham. An epic narrative of Afrodiasporic life, the opera follows a set of archetypal characters from a premodern West African village to a plantation in the U.S. South to a 1920s Harlem cabaret. Its kaleidoscopically varied music reflects Graham’s interest in traditions including Liberian folk music, African American spirituals, and early jazz. Brought to life by a star-studded cast and a chorus of hundreds, on a grand set that featured both a waterfall and an elephant, Tom-Tom elicited an outpouring of enthusiasm. One critic called it a “revolutionary project”; another proclaimed that it was “new opera. Something different from what has preceded it in history.” Yet despite the success of its first production, Tom-Tom disappeared from the stage, never to be performed again.
Tonight’s event lacks waterfalls and elephants, but it offers the rare opportunity to hear music from Tom-Tom. Following a musical introduction of excerpts from the piece, scholars Fredara Hadley and Lucy Caplan will join artists Davóne Tines and Kyle Walker to delve into Graham’s opera and consider her remarkable life and legacy. We invite you to join the conversation as we explore an opera that remains new to our ears more than 80 years after its premiere, still unfamiliar and perhaps still revolutionary.