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Restaging the Harlem Renaissance: New Views on the Performing Arts in Black Manhattan

Public Humanities, Explorations in the Public Humanities

  • Center for Study of Race and Ethnicity
  • Columbia University’s Department of Music
  • The Harlem Chamber Players
  • Harlem Opera Theater
  • Heyman Center Public Humanities Initiative
  • Institute for Research in African-American Studies
  • IRAAS Alumni Council
  • Morningside Opera
  • New York Council for the Humanities
  • PhD Program in Theatre
  • Rare Book and Manuscript Library
  • Annie Holt
  • Image Credit/Caption: H. Lawrence Freeman

Morningside Opera, Harlem Opera Theater, and The Harlem Chamber Players will collaborate on a concert performance of the 1914 opera, Voodoo, by composer-librettist H. Lawrence Freeman (to purchase opera tickets click here). Compared to Richard Wagner by a contemporary journalist, Freeman's music – blending western classical music with American and African-American subjects and musical styles – offers a fresh perspective on the performing arts of the Harlem Renaissance.

Read about "Voodoo" in The New York Times.

On the occasion of this rare performance of a work by a major, if nearly forgotten, figure, the Heyman Center and its partners are convening a two-day interdisciplinary conference on African-American performing arts to accompany an array of events related to the revival, including a talkback with performers, and an exhibit of Freeman’s papers in Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

This conference seeks to contextualize Freeman’s 1914 opera, to address several trends in recent scholarship on African-American culture of the period, and to reflect on the new directions of Black performance studies.

To register for the conference, please email [email protected]. Registration is encouraged but not required.


time12:00pm - 12:30pm EDT

Registration check-in, with buffet lunch available, Butler Library 522

time12:30pm - 12:35pm EDT

Welcome and Introductory Remarks, Butler Library 523

time12:35pm - 1:30pm EDT

Keynote Address, followed by Q&A, Butler Library 523

La Vinia Delois Jennings, “’The Negro in Music and Drama’: Selected Readings From Harry Lawrence Freeman’s 376-Page Manuscript Highlighting Composers, Playwrights, and Lyricists With Whom he Worked in Cleveland and Harlem”

time1:30pm - 2:00pm EDT

Illustrated presentation on Freeman’s Harlem, Butler Library 523

Eric K. Washington, “H. Lawrence Freeman’s Harlem—High Art from Common Ground (Part I)” *Note: This illustrated lecture (Part I) has an optional corollary walking tour (Part II) on Sunday June 28 – please see below to sign up. “H. Lawrence Freeman’s Harlem—High Art from Common Ground” Walking Tour (Part II) - Sunday June 28, at 11am. Led by Eric K. Washington, local historian and a fellow in Columbia’s Community Scholars Program. Harry Lawrence Freeman (1869-1954), was the foremost African-American composer of grand opera. His more than 20 works included Voodoo (1914)—first presented in 1928—now enjoying a historic concert production at Columbia University. On a lighter note, Freeman’s high art vocation also intersected with arbiters of Harlem’s popular culture. In the mid-1930s, he chronicled the past 50 years of a musical scene—from the “Bucket of Blood” to the Lafayette Theatre— that became the lifeblood of the storied Harlem Renaissance. Visit Harlem cultural sites relevant to Freeman’s life and work. Please purchase tickets online ($20):  Note: only 20 spots are available on this tour, so please book soon if you are interested!

time2:00pm - 2:30pm EDT

Break [option to visit the RBML exhibition "Celebrating Composers" that includes Freeman's manuscript of Voodoo] Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, on the 6th floor of Bulter Library

time2:30pm - 4:30pm EDT

Harlem Renaissance Opera Panel, Butler Library 523

Karen Bryan, “Clarence Cameron White and Blackness in Harlem Renaissance Opera”, Stephanie Doktor, “Edmund T. Jenkins and the New Negro Renaissance In and Beyond Harlem”, Carolyn Guzski, “Manhattan Project: Desegregating the Metropolitan Opera, 1916-1926”, Naomi André, “Immigration and the Great Migration: Porgy and Bess in the Harlem Renaissance”, Moderator: Marti Newland

time5:00pm - 6:30pm EDT

Opening reception, wine and cheese/appetizers, Dodge Terrace

time7:00pm - 10:00pm EDT

Performance of Voodoo, Miller Theatre

Tickets to the opera are available to purchase at

time9:30am - 10:00am EDT

Bagels and coffee available, Butler Library 522

time10:00am - 12:00pm EDT

Harlem Renaissance Aesthetics Panel, Butler Library 523

David Gilbert, “Ragging Uplift: Toward New Understandings of Class, Aesthetics, and the Politics of Respectability in Black Manhattan”, Marina Magloire, “Primitive Decadence: Sartorial Maronnage in O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones and Larsen’s Quicksand”, Horace Ballard, “Twin Cities: Harlem, Weimar, and the Aesthetics of German Idealism”, Cherene Sherrard-Johnson, “Harlem Toile/Harlem Style: Competing Tastes of the New Negro Era”, Moderator: Lucy Caplan

time12:00pm - 1:00pm EDT

Lunch, Butler Library 522

time1:30pm - 3:30pm EDT

Harlem Renaissance Theater Panel, Butler Library 523

Nathaniel Nesmith, “Willis Richardson: Racial Uplift and Theatre during the Harlem Renaissance”, Erica Richardson, “The Performance of Sociological Aesthetics in Harlem Renaissance Lynching Plays”, Rosa Schneider, “Restaging the Caribbean: Eugene O'Neill, The Emperor Jones and Haiti”, Katherine Biers, “Reading the Bone: Animism and Voodoo in Harlem Renaissance Theatre”, Moderator: Sam Ng

time3:30pm - 3:45pm EDT

Coffee break, Butler Library 522

time3:45pm - 5:00pm EDT

Artists’ round table, Butler Library 523

Moderator: Albert R. Lee, Panelists TBD

time5:00pm - 5:05pm EDT

Closing remarks

time5:15pm - 6:45pm EDT

Dinner for conference presenters, Lewisohn Hall 602

time7:00pm - 10:00pm EDT

Performance of Voodoo, Miller Theatre

Tickets to the opera are available to purchase at