An Evening of Spiritual Arrangements

by John Birge, Minnesota Public Radio
March 2, 2011

St. Paul, Minn. — How ironic. The man who wrote the book on spirituals hated spirituals a his first encounter!

Back when Dr. Andre Thomas was the only black boy in an all-white Kansas school, he "shrank with embarrassment" when his high school choir sang spirituals. He felt the Amos & Andy -like dialect made fun of black people. But in college, Thomas met a man who changed his mind. His name was Jester Hairston; he was an arranger of spirituals -- and an actor who had actually appeared on Amos and Andy!

Now Andre Thomas is among the world's experts on the history and performance of spirituals. But for all his encyclopedic knowledge, he's a stickler about authenticity, choosing inclusiveness over dogma.

Andre Thomas conducts an evening of his spiritual arrangements at the VocalEssence "Witness" concert at Orchestra Hall on Friday, March 4 at 8pm. I invite you to join me for a pre-concert conversation with him at 7pm. Or click on the "Listen" link to hear his fascinating insights.

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