Duke Ellington’s ‘Sacred Concert’

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April 14, 2024
5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Hartford Memorial Baptist Church
Detroit , MI 48235
Event category: Special event


The audience is invited to swing with soul when Rackham Choir proudly presents Duke Ellington’s “Sacred Concert” on April 14, 2024, at Hartford Memorial Church in Detroit. This rarely heard cultural treasure is presented in collaboration with Wayne State University Department of Music and features soaring choral music, big band sounds and the energy of tap dance.

The concert program will be conducted by Brandon Waddles, Rackham's Artistic Director and Assistant Professor in Teaching, Choral Conducting and Music Education at Wayne State University. In addition to Rackham Choir, the performance features the Wayne State University Big Band and University Choirs and the “Too Hot Trio” of Marion Hayden, bass, Dave Taylor, percussion, and Alvin Waddles, piano.

The concert takes place Sunday, April 14, 2024, beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the historic Hartford Memorial Church, located at 18700 James Couzens Freeway, Detroit, Michigan 48235.

Duke Ellington called his Sacred Concert “the most important thing I have ever done.” Known for his exuberant shows at The Cotton Club in New York City, Ellington has often been categorized as a jazz and blues musician. This work, however, brings together elements of classical and sacred music with swing to create an amazing masterpiece that underscores Ellington’s stature in American classical music.

Music critic Richard S. Ginell observed Ellington’s work draws from scripture and liturgy and is infused with the composer’s upbeat jazz sensibilities. “(T)he concert taps into Ellington’s roots in showbiz and African American culture, as well as his evidently deeply religious faith, throwing it all together in the spirit of universality and sealing everything with the stamps of his musical signatures,” Ginell wrote.

Duke Ellington created a series of three Sacred Concerts. The first premiered on a live television program, broadcast in September of 1965. Ellington performed the works on tour from 1966-1974. Each concert would feature different sections from the series and a local choir. Rackham’s presentation utilizes a Swedish arrangement that features some of the favorites of the series.

The masterpiece was selected to follow on the heels of Rackham’s successful Too Hot To Handel, which fuses the Black American musical forms of jazz, blues and gospel into the Baroque era of Handel.

“This Sacred Concert is an even more direct musical conversation,” Brandon Waddles, Artistic Director of Rackham Choir, said. “Double entendres and meanings are particularly present in Black sacred music. Historically, it has served as a guide for African Americans and their American experience.”

Duke Ellington serves as a unique voice to the complexities of the American experience. It is noteworthy that as Ellington was enjoying success with his revue at the Cotton Club, African Americans were denied entrance to the club as patrons. In the Sacred Concert, Ellington brings cultural discussions about freedom, Civil Rights and some of the social issues that concerned him in the 1960’s.

April 2024