John Michael Cooper
4 min readMar 30, 2022


The Voice of Margaret Bonds Rises in Three Events in the U.S. Capital This Weekend

The estimable Margaret Bonds’s (1913–72) musical ambitus, which stretched from one coast to the other made her the first female African American classical composer to have her music performed in Africa during her lifetime, has been steadily broadening in recent years. Recordings and performances of the works that have long been available have proliferated; tireless scholars such as Dr. Louise Toppin, who studied voice with one of Bonds’s close friends and musical allies, Charlotte Holloman, have produced new editions of the Spirituals Suitefor piano solo and many previously obscure songs; and Hildegard Publishing Company, founded in the 1990s with the mission of making music by women available in high-quality editions, has launched its Margaret Bonds Signature Series, which is currently home to ten previously unknown works by Bonds and is slated to release many more.

These publishers’ dismantling of the systemic silencing to which Margaret Bonds’s musical voice was subjected as the White-dominated world of music publishing left her compositions in manuscript, and thus inaccessible to performers and teachers, during the decades of her rise to renown and beyond, is having its effects. I previously reported that her choral magnum opus, the setting of the W.E.B. Du Bois Credo, is now in the process of receiving seven performances in seven months — this after having lain unheard, unstudied, and untaught for half a century.

This weekend the Bonds renaissance continues with three events, all livestreamed and offered in person:

  • On Friday, 1 April pianist Dr. Leah Claiborne and members of the CAAPA [Coalition for African Americans in the Performing Arts] Chorale will give a presentation/performance that will include Dr. Claiborne’s performance of the complete Spirituals Suite for piano solo, followed by excerpts from The Ballad of the Brown King performed by the CAAPA Chorale. This one is at 12:30 p.m. in McNeir Hall, New North Building at Georgetown University. Here’s the EventBrite livestream link.
  • Also on Friday, 1 April, there will be a talk by Yours Truly titled “The Prophecies Fulfilled: Margaret Bonds and the Sacred Social Work of The Montgomery Variations and Du Bois Credo.” This, too, will be in McNeir Hall and will be livestreamed. It’s at 2:00. Here’s the livestream link.
  • The final installment in this Bonds trilogy is a concert on Saturday evening, 2 April titled “The Music and Activism of Margaret Bonds.” This will include The Montgomery Variations (published by Hildegard Publishing Company in 2020, with a study score coming later this year), the orchestral version of Bonds’s setting of the Du Bois Credo (ditto; this one is already available in choral octavo score and has a study score coming out later this year), and excerpts from her Easter cantata Simon Bore the Cross, which GU Professor Frederick Binkholder published with GIA Editions in 2020. Bonds wrote Simon, which is based on the story of Simon of Cyrene, in collaboration with Langston Hughes; she brilliantly conceived it as a successor to the Bachian chorale cantata, basing the whole on the spiritual “He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word.” It will be conducted by GU Professor Binkholder, while The Montgomery Variations and the Credo will be conducted by Professor Angel Gil-Ordoñez. The Georgetown University Concert Choir will perform the choral works, with soprano Katerina Burton and bass-baritone Christian Simmons, will deliver the deeply moving solo movements in the Credo. The concert will be at 5:00 p.m. in Gaston Hall in the Healy Building and livestreamed (see here). There’s also a story about it in the Hoya, here.

Two final notes:

1. Saturday’s performance of the Credo will be t he second in just one week’s time. The first was an arrangement (prepared with authorization from the composer’s heirs) of the work for brass, timpani, organ, and voices. That performance, which also featured Katerina Burton and Christian Simmons, was made by Allan Laiño and given by The Congressional Chorus (here’s a video).

2. As former Washington Post classical critic Anne Midgette reported in a story back in 2016, Georgetown University came into possession of a sizeable trove of Margaret Bonds music manuscripts and other papers after they failed, remarkably enough, to sell at a book fair. Those manuscripts — which included the three works performed in Saturday’s concert — missed the landfill by a matter of hours, rescued by an after-hours collector who found them by a dumpster and eventually arranged for them to be obtained by GU’s Booth Family Center for Special Collections. There are far more issues built into that story than could possibly be discussed here or in any book. But there is, to my mind, something symbolically poetic about a Black woman whose race and sex effectively shut her out of many sectors of her own musical world coming back now, in music born of a life and a career passionately devoted to social justice, to do what Margaret Bonds is doing in D.C. this weekend: taking an institution and a country that were built through the labor of enslaved African Americans by storm.

Oh, and I know of two other performances of the Credo in D.C. later this year.

Margaret Bonds has conquered D.C.

Originally published at on March 30, 2022.



John Michael Cooper

A musicologist with a passion for social justice, bringing unheard music to life for performers and listeners, and teaching.