Artists in residence performing opera to celebrate civil rights icon Harriet Tubman

Voices of the Diaspora
Voices of the Diaspora

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale, current artists in residence at York University’s Harriet Tubman Institute, are performing the American Opera Project’s original commission of Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom on Friday, Feb. 7. beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the Tribute Communities Recital Hall, Accolade East Building, Keele Campus. The performance is one of several events celebrating Black History Month at York.

Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom is a two-act opera that tells how a young girl born in slavery becomes Harriet Tubman, the legendary Underground Railroad conductor. Based on recent Tubman biographies, the story is told in the context of Tubman’s tight-knit family of lively characters. The opera carries the universal themes of sisterhood, courage, sacrifice and doing what is necessary to keep a family together. Moreover it is a heartwarming tale of two sisters vowing that nothing but death will separate them, despite the slavery threatening to tear them apart.

When I Crossed that Line to Freedom
Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed that Line to Freedom

The opera was composed by Nkeiru Okoye and premiered at the Irondale Center in Brooklyn, New York. The story follows Tubman from her childhood when she was born into slavery and named Araminta, or “Minty,” to her young adulthood where she changed her name and married a free man before running away to the north, to her struggles as an adult as a seasoned part of the Underground Railroad Network – nicknamed “Moses” –  working to get her sister to join her.

Tubman is believed to have helped some 300 people seek freedom from slavery, and to have said that she “never lost a single passenger.”

While this performance will tell the story in a way new to many audiences, Harriet Tubman’s history and lasting influence will be familiar to many in the community at York University, which has been home to the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African Peoples since it was inaugurated on March 25, 2007, on the 200th anniversary of the day the British law to abolish the slave trade received Royal assent. The Harriet Tubman Institute is associated with the UNESCO “Slave Route” Project, and is dedicated to capturing studying, and telling the story of the migration of African peoples around the globe, from centuries ago to the present day.

Nathaniel Dett Chorale
Nathaniel Dett Chorale

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale, directed by Brainerd Blyden-Taylor, who founded the group more than twenty years ago, have served as artists in residence at the Harriet Tubman Institute since 2016. Named after Ontario-born Black musician Robert Nathaniel Dett, the 21-person group, dedicated to Afrocentric music of all styles, including classical, spiritual, gospel, jazz, folk and blues, has become known across the globe.

Tickets to the performance can be purchased from the Nathaniel Dett Chorale’s website or on the production’s website, with free admission for children 12 and under.

With a long history of research, student engagement, and inclusive initiatives around the culture of African-Canadians, York University is proud to celebrate our diverse community during Black History Month by highlighting our research, community excellence, events, and services on our campuses.To read a message from York’s president on Black History Month 2020 or learn about events and celebrations taking place on campus visit York’s Black History Month website.