The Ballad of the Brown King and Other Music for Christmas by Black Composers

The Ballad of the Brown King

Dr. Louise Toppin, a preeminent performer and scholar specializing in the concert repertoire of African American composers, presents the world premiere recording of Margaret Bonds’s The Ballad of the Brown King (Avie Records, 2018). With a libretto by Langston Hughes, this Christmas cantata focuses on Balthazar, the dark-skinned king who journeyed to Bethlehem to witness the birth of Jesus Christ. This gorgeous work is beautifully interpreted by New York City-based The Dessoff Choirs and Orchestra, soloists soprano Laquita Mitchell, mezzo-soprano Lucia Bradford, and tenor Noah Stewart with Malcolm J. Merriweather at the podium.

In this special, we are especially honored to share two exclusive world premiere recordings of Margaret Bonds’s arrangements of the spirituals Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow, and Go Tell It on the Mountain. Generously provided by Dr. Toppin, these exceptional performances were recorded earlier this year at the University of Michigan and are presented by soprano Amber Merritt and tenor Tyrese Byrd, with Dr. Toppin at the piano.

Margaret Bonds (1913–1972):  The Ballad of the Brown King (1954)
Libretto by Langston Hughes (1902–1967)

  1. Of the Three Wise Men
  2. They Brought Fine Gifts
  3. Sing Alleluia
  4. Mary Had a Little Baby
  5. Now When Jesus Was Born
  6. Could He Have Been an Ethiope?
  7. Oh, Sing of the King Who Was Tall and Brown
  8. That Was a Christmas Long Ago
  9. Alleluia

Laquita Mitchell, soprano
Lucia Bradford, mezzo-soprano
Noah Stewart, tenor
The Dessoff Choirs & Orchestra
Malcolm J. Merriweather conductor


The program will also include supplemental musical selections chosen by Dr. Louise Toppin, including:

Spiritual, arr. Bonds: Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow (World Premiere Recording)
Amber Merritt, soprano; Dr. Louise Toppin, piano; Recorded at University of Michigan, 2022

Spiritual, arr. Bonds: Go Tell It on the Mountain (World Premiere Recording)
Tyrese Byrd, tenor; Dr. Louise Toppin, piano; Recorded at University of Michigan, 2022

Spiritual, arr. Roland Hayes: Sister Mary Had a But One Child
William Brown, tenor; Ann Sears, piano

Spiritual, arr. Uzee Brown, Jr: O Mary, What You Gonna Call Your Pretty Little Baby?
Laura English Robinson, soprano; Sandra Lutters, piano

Spiritual, arr. Roland Carter: Mary Had a Baby
Ramon S. Moses, tenor; University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Chamber Singers; Kevin Ford, conductor

Spiritual, arr. William Dawson: Mary Had a Baby
Kathleen Battle, soprano; The Boys Choir of Harlem; Leonard Slatkin, conductor

Spiritual, arr. Jacqueline Hairston: Mary and Her Baby Chile (Medley)
Kathleen Battle, soprano; Christopher Parkening, guitar

About Dr. Louise Toppin
Dr. Louise Toppin is a noted performer, scholar and professor who specializes in the concert repertoire of African American composers. In the span of her career, more than 30 songs and 2 operas have been written expressly for her voice. In addition, she has sung the world premiere of 30 more songs and arias of contemporary composers. As the administrator of the George Shirley Vocal Competition for the past nine years and Videmus (a non-profit organization that promotes the concert repertoire of African American and women composers) for more than twenty-five years, she encourages the performance and scholarship of African American compositions by students and scholars through recordings, conference presentation, live performances, and lectures. Dr. Toppin is also the founder and editor of the African Diaspora Music Project.


Category: Holiday & Seasonal
Duration: 1-hour / 58:30
Frequency: 1-part
Availability: 11/01/2023 - 01/15/2024

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