'Two Wings' Concert Celebrates The Music Of The Great Migration Singer Alicia Hall Moran and pianist Jason Moran mix original music works with 20th century spoken word to reflect on The Great Migration, when African Americans moved from the South to the North.
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'Two Wings: The Music Of Black America In Migration' Celebrates Journey Millions Took

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'Two Wings: The Music Of Black America In Migration' Celebrates Journey Millions Took

'Two Wings: The Music Of Black America In Migration' Celebrates Journey Millions Took

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now the story of an evening of music that celebrates the Great Migration, when millions of African Americans left the South between 1916 and 1970. The concert - "Two Wings: The Music Of Black America In Migration." It includes chamber music, the spoken word, blues and jazz. "Two Wings" has its last performance tonight at the Symphony Center in Chicago. Here's NPR's Walter Ray Watson.

WALTER RAY WATSON, BYLINE: For singer Alicia Hall Moran and pianist Jason Moran, creating "Two Wings" was a deeply personal process. They live in Harlem with their 11-year-old twin sons. Jason Moran says they're surrounded by art and culture born of the Great Migration.

JASON MORAN: Looking up across the street at the hospital and see Charles Alston, you know, sculpture coming out of the wall. I mean, Aaron Douglas paintings are in the YMCA on 135th Street.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW YA GONNA KEEP 'EM DOWN ON THE FARM?")

ALICIA HALL MORAN: (Singing) How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paris?

WATSON: Alicia Hall Moran sings the pop tune, "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm?" In this context, it's asking about a better life for African American soldiers returning from World War I. She says creating this concert has been a journey for her.

HALL MORAN: I could not tell you the gratitude I've learned to experience because of doing this research for the people who stayed and the people who left and also the people who made the journeys back in between.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW YA GONNA KEEP 'EM DOWN ON THE FARM?")

HALL MORAN: (Singing) After they've seen Paris?

WATSON: The concert mixes moods, sometimes sustaining a feeling of peril. Opera tenor Lawrence Brownlee sings this spiritual.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THERE'S A MAN GOING 'ROUND TAKING NAMES")

LAWRENCE BROWNLEE: (Singing) There's a man going 'round taking names. He has taken my brother's name and has left my heart in pain.

WATSON: "Two Wings" premiered at Carnegie Hall, then went to Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. - where the music in this story comes from - then to Hamburg, Germany, and now Chicago. During the concert, performers and speakers follow one another and sometimes overlap.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAROLINA SHOUT")

WATSON: Jazz, of course, was a big part of the Great Migration. And here, Jason Moran plays stride piano, made popular in the 1920s.

(SOUNDBITE OF JASON MORAN PERFORMANCE OF "CAROLINA SHOUT")

MORAN: James P. Johnson kind of made a piece of music called the "Carolina Shout" in a way to also acknowledge people who left the Carolinas to come up North. And all of these musicians - and especially pianists in Harlem - would have to learn this song so that they could battle each other on it.

(SOUNDBITE OF JASON MORAN PERFORMANCE OF "CAROLINA SHOUT")

WATSON: The Morans, as artists and people of color, think deeply about how the past is preserved and kept vital through culture.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEELING GOOD")

HALL MORAN: (Singing) It's a new day. It's a new life for me. It's a new dawn. It's a new day. It's a new life for me. It's a new dawn. It's a new day. It's a new...

WATSON: In part, this is how Alicia Hall Moran does it with a Nina Simone tune.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEELING GOOD")

HALL MORAN: (Singing) And I'm feeling good.

WATSON: Keeping the Great Migration alive and breathing through song. Walter Ray Watson, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEELING GOOD")

HALL MORAN: (Singing) My birds, my sky, my stars, my sun.

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