Dark River: The Fannie Lou Hamer Story
An Opera by Mary Watkins
Set in one of the most remarkable and turbulent periods of American history, Dark River: The Fannie Lou Hamer Story explores the civil rights era from the point of view Fannie Lou Hamer, the daughter of sharecroppers with only a sixth grade education, who became a leader in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Watch the video trailer>>
This full-length opera by Mary Watkins focuses on Fannie Lou Hamer’s early influences, how she came to be involved in civil rights, her work in the movement, and the effect on her personal life.
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. The music is through-composed with no starts and stops, and no spoken words. 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. You can listen to two audio samples from the piece – Fannie’s “I Question America” solo; or a scene between Fannie and her husband, Pap, “We Lost Dorothy.”
WomenArts is collaborating with Mary Watkins to move this ambitious and beautiful piece forward. 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. WomenArts is currently seeking professional companies and schools that could produce “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 video trailer and audio clips mentioned above, WomenArts has posted a plot synopsis, an orchestration list, and the reviews from the Oakland Opera Theater production in 2009. You can see a menu of all of these links in the sidebar of any of our web pages about the opera.