Fortune's Bones-The Manumission Requiem A Success With More to Come

                    By PGS Media


    Audiences could not have been prepared for Fortunes Bones: The Manumission Requiem (Feb 25- 26) and the magnificent direction that curator Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell and Conductor Stanley J. Thurston provided at the Clarice Smith Performance Arts Center. The series is now at the mid-way point through its offerings as events and engagements with continue through late March.

But on Feb. 25 and 26, audiences could not have been prepared for feeling the anguish that tenor Wayne Jennings’ brought to the character before he uttered a single note of “Sometimes I Feel”. With jacket disheveled, and his face distorted in pain, his eyes staring bleakly into space, Jennings’ voice was but one of many instruments he employed to bring listeners to near weeping themselves. They could scarcely have been prepared for soprano Marlissa Hudson’s stunning power and control as well as her presence (she wore a stunning blue single strap dress accented with a sparkling diamond necklace) when she gave her riveting performance of “Come Down Angels”. And they had no primary notice that bass vocalist Kevin Thompson’s voice would both command and woo them into a submission similar to that provided by the comfort of a warm, blanketed bed after a long day at work. His contribution to “Daniel, Daniel Servant of the Lord” held the audience a quiet, willing captive.

    And these were just drops from within the flooding storm of talent and range (both in sound and dramatic presence) brought by the Feb. 26 performance. Among this, one must include the Heritage Signature Chorale, the WPAS Men and Women of the Gospel Choir, the Soli Ensemble, The Orchestra and pianists Maxwell Brown and Victor Simonson.

    All of this and more was beyond expectation not because of the level of talent but because that talent combined with Dr. Barnwell’s vision to make the performance about honor and celebration versus pain, loss and the divisive feelings brought on by one man’s oppression over another.

    “It’s important to me to take people on a journey,” Barnwell said in an interview with Prince George’s Suite four weeks before the performance.  Barnwell’s lifelong and career music and cultural experience—which includes her work with Grammy-nominated Sweet Honey In The Rock—allowed her to accept the pain of the story but to go through that pain in order to serve  higher purpose. “It’s emotional, intellectual and spiritual. It has this ball of mixed emotions to get to a source and move to a higher spiritual place. To work with Negro spirituals [that tell] who we are and how we worked through the troubles that we experience. Our ancestors have left us the Negro spirituals so that we understand. So we have to leave pieces of this storytelling and healing music for future generations. It’s a continuum. We have that obligation.”

    The performance was taken from the book, Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem, written by Poet Marilyn Nelson [see “These Lovely Bones,” for more].

    The success of the performance is already having ripple effects.

    Paul Brohan, Director of Artistic Initiatives at Clarice Smith, was thoroughly pleased with the turnout and response. Both events were filled to capacity and notable guests, including County Executive Rushern L. Baker III were in attendance.  “We will change the way we approach putting together performances like this,” he says. “We will reach out to the community and then move forward.”

    The event had strong community buy-in. “The best indicators of our success is the fact that we have between 25 and 30 community partners who have committed to engaging with us the impact of the events we are completing,” Brohan adds.

    Poet Marilyn Nelson, who saw her work come to life, was moved to tears. “I’m so moved and so proud.”


                                     … a few quotes from the Seattle performance…


“What an afternoon !  Thank you to all responsible for  this production !  The experience was transformative ;  inspirational !  The performers brought their   "A" game!  The  energy of the audience made them "one" & I felt connected to everyone - people I didn't know - like a feel good revival - totally free to express my best self!!!!!!!  Proof that the exceptional power of words, music,  new ideas and  open love .  Gratitude for my life and  my ancestors life .  I came away a new person with more personal confidence  and  appreciation for  my ancestors. Say  Amen somebody!”


“Can we have a repeat performance, PLEASE!”


“Approximately 2,000 people showed up and experienced a high quality music/oratorio program.  About 100 voices + 40 musicians on stage.  The program mattered to people.  I've not been so proud in a long time.  Many thanks to our development team who raised $120k to support this special community program.”  


“Fortune’s Bones was an astonishing achievement! The performance far exceeded anyone expectations (except perhaps your own). The educational value alone was tremendous, as was the entertainment value. Congratulations on a monumental success.”