Billy Childs Premiere with MSU Jazz Orchestra

New song during MLK commemorative concert addresses human trafficking.

The premiere of “Do You Know My Name,” by Billy Childs was met with a standing ovation. MSU Jazz Orchestra I was joined by guest vocalist Alicia Olatuja for the performance. Photo by Katie Stiefel.
Grammy-winning composer Billy Childs played the piano on his premiere during “Jazz: Spirituals, Prayer and Protest Concert,” the annual, commemorative concert celebrating the life and service of Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo by Katie Stiefel.
Rodney Whitaker, MSU director of jazz studies performs during the “Jazz: Spirituals, Prayer and Protest Concert” in the Fairchild Theatre. Photo by Jessica Cowles
Paulette Granberry Russell, senior adviser to the president for diversity and director of the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, spoke to the crowd during the concert. Photo by Katie Stiefel.
A major donor reception was held at Cowles House. Left to right: College of Music Dean James Forger, guest vocalist Alicia Olatuja, jazz composer Billy Childs, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, Dr. Roy J. Simon, and Director of Jazz Studies Rodney Whitaker
Ken and Sandy Beall, sponsors of the Childs Residency, enjoyed spending time with the Grammy-winning composer.

As part of the annual commemorative concert celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr., on Jan. 17, Michigan State University’s Jazz Orchestra I performed the world premiere of “Do You Know My Name?”  Composed by Grammy Award winner Billy Childs, the composition is the first major jazz work to address human trafficking. The premiere performance included Childs at the piano with the jazz orchestra, joined by guest vocalist Alicia Olatuja. See audio and video recordings below.

MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon and her husband, Roy, commissioned the piece, which was the brainchild of Associate Professor of Composition Mark Sullivan, Director of Jazz Studies Rodney Whitaker, and James Forger, dean of the MSU College of Music.

Childs came to MSU in late September for a weeklong residency generously sponsored by Ken and Sandy Beall. During that time, Childs met with Whitaker and Sullivan to discuss the piece specifically written for the MSU jazz ensemble. When he took the commission to compose the piece, Childs said he knew it would occupy a lot of his thought.

“It’s a lot of responsibility because there are a lot of people whose lives are affected and are impacted by this subject,” Childs says. “To treat it lightly would be a disservice.”

Childs mentioned that before writing “Do You Know My Name?” he thought of human trafficking in a cursory manner where everything was abstract. When he started researching and hearing stories about the topic, it became more personal.

Sullivan helped provide some of the stories and research to inform Childs’ composition by working with Jane White, director of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force. Sullivan is also a member of the task force that partnered with the College of Music on the project. The task force is a 90-member statewide consortium that represents a broad spectrum of individuals and organizations in the anti-trafficking movement in Michigan.

“It was part of his process of learning,” says Sullivan. “We talked about the differences between labor and sex trafficking and how survivors integrate back into life. Childs’ piece was written to focus on empowering people to break free.”

Childs thinks that people really want to hear a beautifully crafted melody that has a good structure. Once this is achieved, he said, the piece of music will hold the audience’s attention.

“Art communicates things more powerfully than if it were to be said,” says Childs. “Music creates environments where you are able to receive a message more readily.”

Holding the premiere in the Fairchild Theatre while commemorating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King helped set the tone and environment for that message to be received. The performance portrayed lyrics and a composition designed to create a deeper understanding and delivered a message that was met with resounding ovation from those in attendance.

The event was also connected to MSU Project 60/50, which launched in January 2014 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court Decision in Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Music is such a beautiful form of communication,” says James Forger, dean of the College of Music. “It holds the power to be both inclusive and enlightening. We are very proud and humbled to be part of an initiative that brought such incredible artistry, support, and partnership to this premier. We look forward to developing programming for public school engagement based on this profound work and its message.”

Article Source: MSU Today, Jan. 17, 2016. “MLK Commemorative Concert Addresses Human Trafficking”

VIDEO: Premiere of “Do you know My Name,” by Billy Childs
Performed by MSU Jazz Orchestra I

AUDIO: “Do you know my Name,” by Billy Childs
Performed by MSU Jazz Orchestra I

Human trafficking is defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, or obtaining a person for labor or sexual services through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. The law applied to minors does not require proof of force, fraud or coercion. Human trafficking occurs globally, nationally, in Michigan and in our communities.  

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