Press Release

Langston Hughes and The Harlem Renaissance Revived in VocalEssence WITNESS: Of Such I Dream

Jennifer Weismann



Celebrate jazz poet and activist Langston Hughes at the world premiere of William Banfield’s ‘I Trust Harlem Is Still There’ and the debut of new VocalEssence Youth Choir—February 18

MINNEAPOLISOctober 2017—Our dreams inspire our actions and feed our souls, which is why they meant so much to African American poet Langston Hughes. This year, the VocalEssence WITNESS concert reminds us to pay attention to our dreams, act on them, and make them part of our shared reality by putting Hughes and his enduring work in the spotlight. The VocalEssence Chorus and associate conductor G. Phillip Shoultz, III will present VocalEssence WITNESS: Of Such I Dream at Orchestra Hall on Sun., February 18 at 4 p.m.

VocalEssence, an internationally recognized nonprofit dedicated to building community through song, launched the VocalEssence WITNESS program in the Twin Cities in 1991; since then, it has become one of the nation’s premier initiatives celebrating the contributions of African Americans to our shared American heritage through concerts, recordings, and comprehensive educational programs.

Since 2018 marks the 100th year since the birth of the Harlem Renaissance, VocalEssence has the perfect opportunity to remind audiences why the work of this dynamic, influential cultural movement still resonates.  As it illuminates the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance, VocalEssence WITNESS: Of Such I Dream will present a multidisciplinary, multimedia experience that will inspire and—hopefully—empower attendees to become agents of change in their own communities.

The performance will mark the world premiere of composer William Banfield’s chamber symphony, I Trust Harlem Is Still There, based on the letters of Langston Hughes; and Banfield, a Professor of Africana Studies at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, will be in attendance as part of his residency with the VocalEssence WITNESS program. The VocalEssence WITNESS teaching artists, who work with local elementary, middle, and high school students on material related to this year’s theme, will also lend their energy and spark to the night.

VocalEssence WITNESS: Of Such I Dream will also mark the debut subscription concert performance of the community-based youth choir from the VocalEssence Youth Choral Arts Initiative. The pilot year of this new program provides an eight-month choral arts apprenticeship for Twin Cities high school students, where they’ll celebrate diverse art influences and learn from (and create with!) master artists. The youth choir, reflecting the diverse makeup of our community, will take the stage to show off their first semester of learning and working as a performing unit.

“We’re so proud to share our love for—and shine a bright light on—this tremendously fertile creative period,” said VocalEssence associate conductor G. Phillip Shoultz, III. “The Harlem Renaissance did not happen by chance. It was the natural explosion of expression from voices that had been stifled for far too long. The first Great Migration was an opportunity for Black America to relocate and create communities where deferred dreams could begin to be realized. The Renaissance extended beyond Harlem into many other cities, including right here at home in St. Paul, where the Rondo neighborhood also enjoyed a thriving artistic presence. In many ways, the dreams that Langston Hughes’ articulates so eloquently in his poems and letters became catalysts for change. Those dreams still guide us today, a century later. We all have dreams. Langston encourages us to act on them That’s what this year’s VocalEssence WITNESS is designed to do—help us all to play our part in making the world a better place.”

VocalEssence WITNESS: Of Such I Dream will be performed on Sun., February 18 at 4 p.m., Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis. There will be a pre-concert conversation at 3 p.m. This event is open to the public. Tickets start at $10. For more information, call 612-371-5656 or visit

VocalEssence, called “one of the irreplaceable music ensembles of our time” by Dana Gioia, past chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts—and the choral ensemble that Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones says “sings magnificently”—impacts thousands of students, singers, and composers each year through its initiative programs, contests, and support for innovative art. VocalEssence was founded in 1969 and has debuted more than 250 commissions and world premieres. For more information, visit