We have received the following article from James Davis Jr., Director of Music Ministries & Fine Arts at The Abyssinian Baptist Church. The contents are self-explanatory. We publish the letter in the hope that Ms Battle will reconsider the rights of her backing singers.
On November 13, 2016, Kathleen Battle will make her highly anticipated return to the Metropolitan Opera Stage after a 22-year hiatus. She has titled the program Underground Railroad: A Spiritual Journey. She will sing a full concert of Negro spirituals (a first for the Metropolitan Opera), accompanied by a 30-voice choir of Black singers she is unwilling to fairly compensate, even though the Metropolitan Opera Chorus is being paid union scale and they are not singing the concert at all. If this program happens, the Metropolitan Opera stage will be transformed into a proverbial plantation with Kathleen Battle as overseer. This concert is already sold out and has been for several months now. And this huge financial success for the Metropolitan Opera, Columbia Artists Management Inc. (the agency that represents her) and Kathleen Battle herself, has been built on the backs of exploited black labor.
The Negro spiritual, in my view, is the soundtrack of the struggle of African peoples in the Western Hemisphere, particularly America. This music was birthed out of the fight for freedom, justice and equality that continues to this day. The music by the chorus is interspersed with quotes from Frederick Douglass & Harriet Tubman, issuing from the blood, sweat, tears and suffering of an enslaved people and their disenfranchised descendants.
There is no question Douglass and Tubman would agree that for the vast majority of black musicians working on this project to not be compensated fairly and equally is exploitation at its worst; exploitation of our music, our heritage and our people. Sometimes, we as artists have to take a stand, and in my small way as a musician born and raised in Mississippi, I have chosen not to participate in this production that shies away from liberty and justice for all.