Sunday, August 10, 2008

Paul Dunbar's 'Ode to Ethiopia' in Prologue of William Grant Still's 'Afro-American Symphony'

[Afro-American Symphony; William Grant Still; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Karl Kruger, conductor; Bridge 9086 (1999)]
Publisher’s Note: As members of Harlem’s legendary Abyssinian Baptist Church, a symbol of African American and Ethiopian relations, prepare for the church’s bicentennial celebration, we offer the following article from our archive that reminds us of the lasting legacies and ties that bind.

African American and Ethiopian Relations
By Tseday Alehegn
“The term ‘Ethiopian’ has been used in a myriad of ways; it is attributed to the indigenous inhabitants of the land located in the Eastern Horn of Africa, as well as more generally denotive of individuals of African descent. Indeed, at one time, the body of water now known as the Atlantic Ocean was known as the Ethiopian Ocean. And it was across this very ocean that the ancestors of African Americans were brought to America and the ‘ New World.’”

“Early African American Writers
Although physically separated from their ancestral homeland and amidst the opprobrious shackles of slavery, African American poets, writers, abolitionists, and politicians persisted in forging a collective identity, seeking to link themselves figuratively if not literally to the African continent. One of the first published African American writers, Phillis Wheatly, sought refuge in referring to herself as an 'Ethiop'. Wheatley, an outspoken poet, was also one of the earliest voices of the anti-slavery movement, and often wrote to newspapers of her passion for freedom. She eloquently asserted, 'In every human breast God has implanted a principle, it is impatient of oppression.' In 1834 another anti-slavery poet, William Stanley Roscoe, published his poem 'The Ethiop' recounting the tale of an African fighter ending the reign of slavery in the Caribbean. Paul Dunbar’s notable 'Ode to Ethiopia,' published in 1896, was eventually put to music by William Grant Still and performed in 1930 by the Afro-American Symphony.” Full Post

The text of Paul Dunbar's Ode to Ethiopia is found at the Duke University Library Scriptorium. The verses which were used in the Prologue to the Afro-American Symphony are:

Be proud, my race, in mind and soul;
Thy name is writ on Glory's scroll
In characters of fire.
High 'mid the clouds of Fame's bright sky
Thy banner's blazoned folds now fly,
And truth shall lift them higher.
[William Grant Still (1895-1978) is profiled at, along with the Ethiopian pianist and composer Girma Yifrashewa (b. 1967)]

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