I have always been drawn to the bittersweet in art. I found in the poems of Langston Hughes an incredibly rich and diverse tapestry of emotion and ambivalence and sought in my musical settings to capture their shifting moods and contrasting themes. The timely "Daybreak in Alabama" voices the poet's dream of racial harmony, while "Georgia Dusk" paints a haunting image of lynchings in the South of the 1950s. "Song for Billie Holiday" concerns the first incarceration of the great jazz singer, and "April Rain Song" evokes childlike wonderment at nature. The song cycle was written for soprano Amy Bartram who premiered it at St. Mark’s Church and recorded it in 2009. The title song was featured in the nationally broadcast radio series, "Song of America," hosted by Thomas Hampson. In 2013, the set had its Paris premiere with Jill McCoy as vocalist backed by members of the Trans-Atlanticisms Trio. Recently, Met opera soloist Molly Fillmore sang the set (along with the world premiere of “Quiet Girl”) at the University of North Texas.
The songs on this album were composed and recorded with permission by the Estate of Langston Hughes.
The Langston Hughes poem, "Quiet Girl" [aka "Ardella"], set to music by John Stone. Featuring Owen McIntosh (tenor) and John Stone (piano).
The Langston Hughes poem, "Song For Billie Holiday," set to music by John Stone. Featuring Amy Bartram (soprano) and John Stone (piano).
"April Rain Song" is part of "Daybreak in Alabama," a cycle of five Langston Hughes poem set to music by John Stone. Soprano Molly Fillmore (with Stone at the piano) performed the complete cycle at the University of North Texas (College of Music Recital Hall) on Feb. 19, 2017.
The ‘Daybreak in Alabama’ song cycle is suited for both male and female voices and has a duration of 15 minutes. To request PDFs of individual songs or the entire set, and to obtain permission to program, record, or perform the work, please direct all inquiries to the composer using the form found in CONTACT
‘Daybreak in Alabama’ envisions a world where all races live in peace and harmony. Amy Bartram sings Stone’s setting with all the brightness of hope shining through. Stone is a great pianist, as well as composer. The works vary in tempo, but the style is John’s own. It is a remarkable style, shifting effortlessly from light to somber depending on the theme. John performs exquisitely, with sure command of the correlation of music and poetry. ‘Georgia Dusk,’ a dark memory of a lynching, evokes the coming night, ‘Veiling what the darkness hides.’ Ms. Bartram makes us feel the tragedy that took place in bright sunlight. Now as night descends, there is only the memory and the horrible evidence of the afternoon. ‘April Rain Song’ is a great audience pleaser. We respond eagerly to the line, ‘Let the rain kiss you.’ Stone and Bartram together make us exult the line, ‘And I love the rain.’
-Kenneth P. Neilson (From a review in The Culvert Chronicles, 2009)