Dark River: The Fannie Lou Hamer Story
An Opera by Mary Watkins
Dark River: The Fannie Lou Hamer Story is a full-length opera by Mary Watkins about Fannie Lou Hamer, the daughter of sharecroppers who was one of the first African-Americans to register to vote in Mississippi. She became a leader in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and endured death threats, beatings, and imprisonment in order to obtain voting rights for her people.
Click on the icons below to watch the video trailer, listen to audio excerpts, or get more information about the upcoming East Coast premiere at Mount Holyoke College, composer Mary Watkins, the plot of the opera, and ways that you can donate.
Consisting of 2 acts and 22 scenes, the opera is structured as an ensemble piece. It is sung by a 15 member chorus and 3 principal singers. Although the music is in a classical format, it is infused with distinctive flavors of jazz, blues and gospel, an interweaving of diverse styles that reflects the times perfectly. A chamber orchestra version of Dark River was performed in November 2009 by the Oakland Opera Company in collaboration with California State University East Bay and directed by Darryl V. Jones.
You can listen to four audio samples from the piece – Fannie’s “I Question America” solo; a scene between Fannie and her husband, Pap, “We Lost Dorothy“; a scene where Fannie speaks to the delegates from the Mississippi Freedom Party, “The Delegates Meet“; and a scene where the delegates sing of their determination to stand together, “We Do Not Accept.”
WomenArts is currently working with Mary Watkins to raise funds for the East Coast Premiere of a new version which will be performed by the 60-piece Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA in April 2014, and the Southern Premiere at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA in February 2015. We welcome inquiries from other professional companies or schools that are interested in producing “Dark River: The Fannie Lou Hamer Story” with a full orchestra.
Trained in classical music at Howard University, Mary Watkins has written for symphony orchestras, chamber and jazz ensembles, film, theatre, and choral groups, in addition to being a popular recording artist for Olivia records in the 1970s. She wrote the score for the Revolutionary Nutcracker Sweetie, a jazz adaptation of the Nutcracker Suite, which was performed annually from 1987-97 by San Francisco’s Dance Brigade as a progressive holiday treat.
Watkins’ recent recordings include Prayer for Peace, a meditational CD, and Recorded Music of the African Diaspora (Albany Records, 2010: Center For Black Music Research; department of Columbia College in Chicago, IL).
To see Mary Watkins’ full resume, please click here>>
Additional Online Resources
In addition to the links from the icons about, WomenArts has posted an orchestration list, and the reviews from the Oakland Opera Theater production in 2009. You can see a menu of all of the Dark River links in the sidebar of any of our web pages about the opera.