An Anti-Hate Musical Museum Crawl

On the afternoon of Saturday, February 25, 2017, a few musicians challenged themselves and their audience by performing two compositions by Hannibal Lokumbe at two locations a few blocks apart.

Fannie Lou Hamer and Anne Frank lived on opposite sides of the ocean, their religions and skin color were different, and they never met. What they had in common, aside from being human, was they were hated because of who they were. Too many people still are.

Fannie Lou Hamer, for String Quartet and a Vocalist

Location: The African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP)

What happened: A string quartet of Fabulous Philadelphians, along with vocalist Tulivu-Donna Cumberbach performed music in memory of Fannie Lou Hamer, who was born the youngest of 20 children in Mississippi and became a voting rights advocate. Her ordeal in the Winona, Mississippi jail included the police ordering two inmates to beat her with a blackjack while the police held her down. When Fannie Lou started to scream, the police beat her more. That day, she nearly died for the right to vote.

Kim Fisher (foreground), William Polk (behind her), and John Koen perform at AAMP. Not shown: Kerri Ryan and vocalist Tulivu-Donna Cumberbach

As you might imagine, this was not easy music to hear. Hannibal followed the performance with a few remarks. I noted “I see everything through the music” and “Only the peace and love of the creator can bring harmony.” He told the parents who had brought children, including some pretty young ones, how happy he was to have “the babies” there and that he no longer performs in bars because children cannot enter.

Hannibal spoke of his upcoming work in the Philadelphia Prison facilities about 10 miles away. He did not mention the sad irony that Federal Detention Center, Philadelphia is right across the street from the museum where we sat. However, he did remind everyone that “The music couldn’t be taken from us when they took us off the slave ships.”

A Star for Anne, for String Quartet and Narrator

Location: The National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH)

What happened: Walking between the museums took about 10 minutes. We passed Independence Hall, the National Constitution Center, and the U.S. Mint. Liberty, the law, and money; so very American. After going through the required security, there was more music.

The same string quartet played a tribute to Ann Frank that starts with happy sounds evoking a child playing in a garden. Then we hear the sounds of “Raus Jude” and evocations of a horrible train ride and even worse things after. That ride endured by six million Jews, including some of my cousins and their parents. I could feel the pain.

The Anne Frank piece I wrote because I wanted to make sure I make a musical statement of thanks and gratitude to her. As a child of color growing up in Texas, it meant a lot for me to read her diary. It let me know that insanity was not confined to the part of the world I lived in only. Hannibal Lokumbe
Raus Jude!

During a second Q and A session, Hannibal expressed amazement at how well the musicians had brought his piece to life. I was impressed, though not too surprised. I have come to know that, for this orchestra, remarkable is just normal. An audience member asked how it felt to play this music. Violinist Kim replied that it had brought her to tears. And yes, this incredibly accomplished musician was in tears.

A Private “Show” for the Dead

I drove home that night through a strong storm, which had it’s own drumbeat. The quartet members joined their orchestra colleagues for their scheduled concert at the Kimmel Center.

The dead at Mount Carmel Cemetery witnessed another performance. My guess is the music had it’s share of dissonance. Perhaps it sounded a bit like drumming as the gravestones fell. Perhaps there were whoops of delight, lyrics like “take that kike” and “f_ck you Christ killer.” Maybe the cowards save a special musical accent for “Heil Hitler/Hail _____.” (Cowards only attack people who cannot defend themselves, living or dead.)

We may never know who these performers were. The cemetery maintenance man I met said you cannot pull fingerprints from granite.

Carry the light. #JewishPhilly