Depicting Community Through Jazz, BC Choir Collab On ‘God’s Only Black Man’

By Samia Afsar

   Since the fall term has finally commenced, music fans recently united at Brooklyn College’s Claire Tow Theater for an evening of jazz-cleansing. RoBurrage Productions and World Rhythm Academy, in collaboration with the Brooklyn College Symphonic Choir, performed a conservatory jazz ensemble titled “God’s Only Black Man,” on Wednesday, Sept. 14. 

   Although fairly low in attendance, waves of music gracefully echoed throughout the theater as the jazz ensemble and choir performed original compositions created by Ronnie Burrage, a percussionist, vocalist, composer, producer, and professor at Brooklyn College’s Conservatory of Music. Drawing inspiration from his own family and human nature, Burrage’s motivation for the event was to build a sense of community. 

   “I know that music is like a healing force,” Burrage told the Vanguard. “I want people to be aware of the things that are going on and music nowadays doesn’t talk to people about the importance of society and culture. So, my music is about just that – community.” 

   To kick off the event, Burrage performed alongside the choir, Holographic Principle, and conservatory jazz ensemble, with vocals by Malcolm J. Merriweather, a Grammy-nominated conductor and baritone. Together they played a piece titled “Always,” which was about giving thanks and praising God. Being a lively and enthusiastic piece, “Always” served as a crucial introduction to the event. However, it was the encouraging nods and exuberant smiles on stage by the artists that truly set the tone for the evening. From the first musical composition, it was clear that the night was about celebrating each other, spreading love, and building a community.    

   Despite each musical composition being beautifully empowering in its own way, there were two pieces that moved much of the audience to tears. The first, entitled “Alana’s Dance,” was a song dedicated to Burrage’s daughter. While on percussion and vocals, Burrage was joined by the string ensemble, which so exquisitely captured the innocence and playful tone of the piece. 

   The second composition, titled “God’s Only Black Man,” was initially a poem written by Burrage’s grandfather, Allan David Mahr. The poem is in the archives of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and President John F. Kennedy, and has received honorary doctorates in Literature from the University of EuClaire, Wisconsin, and the University of Bombay. 

   “My grandfather’s poem has been in my life my entire life and it serves as a mantra of just how proud we are to be who we are as people of color,” said Burrage. “It speaks on how proud I am to be a black man.”

   “God’s Only Black Man” was conducted with the entire orchestra in performance, and in sync with a short slideshow and film showcasing photographs and short clips that radiated self-love, pride, and community, ending the hour-and-a-half-long event on both an especially strong, moving note.  

   The poem and Burrage’s musical composition were on the 2019 Grammy-considered recording entitled “Dance of the Great Spirit,” by Burrage and Holographic Principle. 

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