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Arts & Life

UM Men’s Glee Club remembers lives lost with “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed”

Professor Eugene Roberts leads the U of M Men's Glee Club through their performance of "The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed"
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Professor Eugene Roberts leads the U of M Men's Glee Club through their performance of "The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed"

The names of men like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others have been thrust violently into our nation's history. Unarmed African-American men, all killed. Their deaths gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement and to badly-needed discussions about racial discrimination and social injustice. 

This spring, the University of Michigan Men's Glee Club added its voice in a singular way to this tough conversation. 

The Glee Club's spring performance featured the premiere of a multi-movement work called The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed. It's written by Atlanta-based composer Joel Thompson.

It uses the final words of seven African-American men who were unarmed, and yet shot and killed by police and others.

"I wanted to make sure that what I wrote was true to my internal pain and reaction to all of the racial tension going on, but also true to the victims themselves," Thompson tells us.

"I knew it was powerful. I knew just immediately from reading through it, it spoke to me," professor Eugene Rogers says. "I began to focus on the theme of love, life and loss ... and I knew that even if we didn't agree politically on cause and who's to blame ... that hopefully we could all agree on the value of each of these men's lives, that we're honoring lost lives." 

GUESTS Joel Thompson is an composer. He's also the Upper School Chorus Director at Holy Innocents' Episcopal School and a Professor of Music at Freedom University in Atlanta. Eugene Rogers is the Associate Director of Choirs and Associate Professor of Conducting at the University of Michigan.

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