OCEAN: The Life and times of Poet Phillis Wheatley


Artwork by M. Saffell Gardner

Friday, November 11th @ 7:30 PM

KCH is honored to present Marion Hayden’s Ocean: The Life and Times of Poet Phillis Wheatley – a musical suite exploring the life journey of poet Phillis Wheatley (ca. 1753- 1784), the first African American to publish a book and to achieve international stature as an author. Next year marks the 250th anniversary of the publication of Miss Wheatley’s large book of poems entitled Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral.

The ensemble is led by bassist, composer and Kresge Artist Fellow Marion Hayden with an impressive collaboration of notable artists: Buddy Budson (piano), Dwight Adams (trumpet), Rafael Leafar (saxophone and flute), Vincent Chandler (trombone), Ursula Walker (vocals), Henry Connerway (drums) and poet, Kresge Eminent Artist Dr. Gloria House (Aneb Kgositsile).

Wheatley, a formerly enslaved woman, has been a subject of some discussion in the literary community. Some have felt that her poetry did not speak to a high enough degree of resistance to her captivity and to the abolitionist movement in general. Some felt she had been co-opted by her enslavers and did not speak with her own voice.

Hayden shares that her purpose with this composition, “is to introduce Phillis Wheatley’s life and work to some and to elevate her life and work to others.” Hayden’s music illustrates different aspects of Wheatley’s life – her crossing of the Atlantic Ocean as an 8-year-old referred to by African Americans as the middle passage experience; the growth of her interest in all things literary, the reality of being enslaved, and the duality of her existence as a celebrated poet/ “African genius” and an enslaved woman.

This engagement is supported by the Arts Midwest GIG Fund, a program of Arts Midwest that is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts,
with additional contributions from Michigan Arts & Culture Council.

COVID-19 Policy for Indoor Concerts at Kerrytown Concert House

  • Masks are strongly encouraged and available as needed.
  • Please do not attend a performance if you are feeling ill or have any symptoms of COVID-19.
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