While interpreting milestones from the civil rights movement can be a daunting task, Christian McBride has proven himself equal to the challenge with “The Movement Revisited” — an inspiring, four-part composition slated for performance at the Kennedy Center on Feb. 4.
McBride’s epic production gives us words from Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama. Accompanying those words will be the 17-piece Christian McBride Big Band.
“This piece was not written to make a definitive history or statement on Black history,” said seven-time Grammy winner McBride during our recent conversation.
“If you look at a specific time in our country’s history, there have always been some Black people who have been very important in keeping us afloat,” he said.
For the Kennedy Center performance, the words from civil rights icons will be voiced by Keith David (“Greenleaf,” “The Thing”); Tamara Tunie (“Law and Order: SVU,” “Spring Awakening”); Vondie Curtis-Hall (“Chicago Hope,” “Daredevil”); and Dion Graham (“Malcolm X,” “The Wire”).
Vocalist Alicia Olatuja, the Howard Gospel Choir and Choir Director J.D. Steele will round out the ensemble.
Growth of The Movement
“The Movement Revisited,” commissioned in 1998 by the Portland (Maine) Arts Society, initially began as a piece for a quartet and gospel choir. It grew in scope in 2008 when the L.A. Philharmonic asked McBride to revise and enlarge it for their upcoming season.
American race history from the 50s through the 70s served as McBride’s inspiration for the suite.
“When I was growing up, these pieces came from my grandmother’s huge collection of Jet and Ebony magazines,” said McBride recalling a staple of many Black homes. “I didn’t necessarily learn a lot of history from Scholastic Books.”
Seeing Black people covered in two national magazines from Johnson Publishing, a Black-owned company, became tools for McBride to see history through a different lens. Along with picking up more facts from school and his family, he said he created the suite around voices which spoke to his spirit.
A CD of the suite, recorded on the Mack Avenue Records in September 2013, would not be released until nearly seven years later due to legal matters.
“We knew that it was going to be a task getting clearance rights to use the actual words of the historic people featured in the suite,” said McBride, host of “Jazz Night in America” on National Public Radio.
Since its formative years in 1998, McBride’s suite has followed a meandering path — similar to the way the country has moved.
“In 1998, one could say it might have been called ‘peacetime,'” McBride said. “That’s why it was called ‘The Movement Revisited.’ I don’t know if we revisit. We are creating new movements.”
For tickets, go to www.kennedy-center.org.