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CD Spotlight: Credo and Simon Bore the Cross by Margaret Bonds

Margaret Bonds had a rich childhood in Chicago, growing up in a house that was a meeting place for many of the leading Black writers, artists, and musicians of the time including Florence Price, who would become one of Bonds’ teachers. Her mother, a pianist, composer, arranger, and music teacher, gave Margaret her first lessons and, at the age of five, Margaret wrote her first piece — Marquette Street Blues. It was the beginning of an auspicious career; she was the first Black soloist to perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a leading light in the Harlem Renaissance with her friend and collaborator Langston Hughes, and she won popularity throughout the United States. It is no surprise that she was also on the frontlines in the fight for civil rights.

Much of Bonds’ music is for voice, using the words of spirituals and great Black writers as her inspiration. And so it was for Simon Bore the Cross, created with Langston Hughes, and Credo, a setting of a prose poem by W.E.B. Dubois. Simon Bore the Cross, begun in 1962, tells the tale of Simon of Cyrene from North Africa, who carried Jesus’ cross on the way to Calvary. Credo, which was started the following year, uses W.E.B. Dubois’ prose poem and is a list of Dubois’ deeply help beliefs in God, the Negro Race, the Devil, the Prince of Peace, Liberty, and finally Patience. Getting performances of both pieces proved arduous, and neither was published in her lifetime.

When Margaret Bonds began working on Simon Bore the Cross and Credo, she had no inkling that she would never hear the former performed, and only hear the latter once. Six decades later, the Dessoff Choirs and Orchestra with conductor Malcolm J. Merriweather, a graduate of the Eastman School of Music, have brought both works into the light with a powerful rendition of each, honoring both Bond’s greatest hopes and her clearest vision. Bonds saw these pieces as a “true concept of Brotherhood toward people of color throughout the world.” Now, finally, the world will hear them.

A Strong Memorial baby and Greece Arcadia grad, Julia Figueras was the Music Director and mid-day host for WXXI Classical until June 30, 2023 when she retired after more than 26 years of service. She also hosted the award-winning monthly interview/performance show, Backstage Pass.