Activist Orchestra Commemorates Sandra Bland With ‘Sing Her Name’

by Katherine Barner

On July 13, 2015, Sandra Bland was pulled over for forgetting a turn signal, something every driver has mistakenly done at least once in his or her life. Bland, however, was arrested after a mild confrontation, and soon found hanged in the cell of a Texas county jail. That very month, four more black women died behind bars: Kindra Chapman, Raynette Turner, Joyce Curnell and Ralkina Jones. 

Bland’s death was a shock to all that knew her. No one expected her to take her own life, and after han ex-security guard admitted he falsified log entries, her death remains to be a tragic mystery.

sing her name

Fast forward to the following year. The Great Hall of Cooper Union in New York City had lines of people wrapped around the block. From teens to  senior citizens, people were anxiously awaiting the start of an orchestral show. This was no ordinary concert: activist orchestra The Dream Unfinished commemorated Sandra Bland’s death with “Sing Her Name,” an orchestral and choral event. 

The event also commemorated other women who have been impacted by racial injustice, featuring all female composers, including New York premieres of works by Florence Price, Margaret Bonds, Ethel Smyth, and a newly commissioned choral work by Courtney Bryan, with text by Sharan Strange, as well as Black Lives Matters organizers and activists. The event was organized by Eun Lee, a clarinetist and music teacher.

dream unfinsihed

The talent of the evening was remarkable: Under the artistic direction of James Blachly and Grammy-award winning conductor John McLaughlin Williams, soloists included baritone Dashon Burton, vocalist Helga Davis, soprano Marlissa Hudson, and pianist Michelle Cann. The Dream Unfinished Orchestra will be led by concert master Kelly Hall-Tompkins (Fiddler on the Roof), and The Dream Unfinished Chorus included members of Downtown Voices, Cantori New York. The performances brought the audience to their feet on multiple occasions. 

Between musical selections, special guests gave introductions on the featured composers we were about to here. Guests included Terrance McKnight (WQXR), Kimberlé Crenshaw (African American Policy Forum), Gina Belafonte (, Farah Griffin (Columbia University), Agunda Okeyo (Sisters of Comedy), harpist Ashley Jackson, projessor of music Trevor Weston, and Farah Tanis (Black Women’s Blueprint).

All proceeds of “Sing Her Name” went to the Center for Constitutional Rights, Black Women’s Blueprint, and African American Policy Forum.

Learn more about “Sing Her Name” here.

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