Thomas Hampson is touring ‘Black Music Matters’

Thomas Hampson is touring ‘Black Music Matters’


norman lebrecht

June 06, 2021

The veteran American baritone has begin a tour in Hamburg of music by African-American composers.

“Europeans are always looking for voices in America that tell them how people really live and manage, how democracy really looks and works,” Hampson said in an interview with Deutsche Welle. “This program shows the sound of diversity and I am sure that a large part of the repertoire on both sides of the Atlantic is completely unknown. And there is a lot to discover.”

Full story here.



  • John Borstlap says:

    What an irony.

    Humanism, the Enlightenment, democracy, the idea of an open society for individual civilians (= diversity), all of that was born in Europe, and the USA are the only Western nation that had slavery structurally embedded in their own country, which could only be overcome through a bloody civil war, an inheritance that still undermines their ‘democracy’ – where, by the way, fascist elements have become stronger than ever.

    • PeterB says:

      Your hypocrisy would be astonishing if your continuous rants here hadn’t prepared us for it. Your country played a major role in the slave trade which was very much “structurally embedded” in its economy. And your rant of the day is nonsensical as well. Performing music by African-American composers is both a natural thing to do for an American musician, and an attempt to counter the structural racism that you make a false show of criticizing.

      • E Rand says:

        more African American music is performed daily than any other music…have you turned on a radio of late? Have you heard what the kids listen to?

        • PeterB says:

          As you very well know, we’re talking about “classical” music by African-American composers. Thomas Hampson doesn’t do hip hop.
          As I very well knew already, intellectual honesty is hard to find among the readership of this blog.

          • E Rand says:

            Isn’t “classical” music by African-American composers definitionally cultural appropriation? I keep being reminded that that is verboten.

          • Marfisa says:

            E.Rand writes “Isn’t “classical” music by African-American composers definitionally cultural appropriation?”

            No, of course it isn’t.

            But this is E.Rand’s usual tactic, ridiculing an idea by twisting it into its most extreme and unacceptable form, instead of honestly engaging with the issue, which is how different cultural traditions within one nation (the United States) can fruitfully interact without parody or denigration.

            A symphony written by William Grant Still is not equivalent to a black and white minstrel show.

          • E Rand says:

            We are told that if a white chef indulges the cuisine of Mexico, or Korea (to use two recent examples) this is unacceptable cultural appropriation. What the non-midwit readers of this blog understand is that the left’s rules on this phenomenon only go in one direction.

          • Marfisa says:

            E.Rand “We are told that if a white chef indulges the cuisine of Mexico, or Korea … this is unacceptable cultural appropriation.”

            The click-bait headlines from the right are telling you this. If you troubled to find out more about your two examples, you would see that the criticisms were mainly on other (and quite justified) grounds. The same goes for Lepage and Kanata.

            It is easy to sneer at extreme and simplistic left-wing sloganizing (I do it myself). It is less easy to engage with complexities and reasonable argument.

            But I don’t want to scold … and all this has nothing to do with Thomas Hampson’s initiative.

          • Dennis says:

            Yes, if words meant what they seem to, and the Left were consistent.

            But, in the language of wokeness, only whites can be guilty of “crimes” like “cultural appropriation.”

          • Karl says:

            That’s what I was thinking. Robert Lepage canceled Kanata because of cultural appropriation claims a few years ago.

        • Marfisa says:

          The subject is African-American music *in the classical tradition*. Have you read what Thomas Hampson is saying?

        • M says:

          Well, you are exactly right and while I am entirely for exposer for all to Classical Music- and everyone should have the opportunity to learn and explore it- not everyone has to like it. I mean, I’m a classical musician and if never have to play certain composers again, it will be too soon! And classical music has all but vanished from TV late shows and morning shows. There is a wonderfully engaging South African soprano- I will not name her here- and she is not included in the two below- who should be on every show imaginable and singing and talking. One thing that ‘works’ is a young kid finds someone he or she loves and becomes a fan and it is such an inspiration….

      • Hayne says:

        Please provide evidence of Mr. Borslap’s role and benefiting in the slave trade. That’s what you’re implying because of the country he’s from. “Structurally embedded” and “structural racism” are more unprovable, antirational Critical Race Theory nonsense terms.

        • PeterB says:

          “Structurally embedded” is actually a quote from Mr. Borstlap’s (not Borslap’s) own post. And no, that is not what I’m implying, as you very well know. Intellectual honesty is hard to come by here.

          • Hayne says:

            You are right. I just glossed over Mr. Borslap’s post and your reply without hardly thinking.
            My mistake:)

      • Novagerio says:

        Bravo PeterB !!

      • jan neckers says:

        Your knowledge on the slave trade can be written on a small stamp. The accepted figures are 12 million transatlantic, 14 million Arab-African Middle-East, 17 million slaves of other Africans. All slaves in the transatlantic trade were bought from Africans. The Republic of the 7 Provinces (a confederation) was responsable for 5% of the transatlantic trade. At its height (1770) it provided 10% of the income of the province of Holland and 5% of the Republic as a whole. Reproaching someone that he is guilty because he lives on the same soil as traders 250 years ago, belongs to the traditions nazis and communists cling too. “Im Geist des Führers arbeiten” suits you perfectly.

        • Marfisa says:

          PeterB should perhaps have said “a significant role in the slave trade” rather than “a major role”.

          Your figures, 5%, 10%, take no account of the indirect benefits of slavery to the economy , which around 1770 could have been as high as 40%:

          The historic guilt is national, not personal. But anybody today who chooses to regard slavery and colonialism as matters of little importance with no lasting consequences deserves some reproach.

          • Hayne says:

            “The historic guilt is national, not personal.”
            Shouldn’t all these peoples from tribes in Africa also feel guilt from what they did hundreds of years ago?
            Ottoman Algeria
            Kanem Bornu
            Kingdom of Allada
            Aro Confederacy
            Songhai Empire
            Mali Empire

            BTW, you do know there still is slavery in Africa RIGHT NOW. Different countries.
            After Libya was destroyed, slavery came back. You can buy a slave for as little as $400. I’ll give credit where it’s due.
            Thanks Obama!

          • Marfisa says:

            And your point is?

          • Hayne says:

            All countries have “historic guilt” if you go back far enough. My opinion also is that’s what governments do. Period.

          • Althea T-H says:

            Some of them do. Ghana has played a hugely positive role in opening its doors to members of the African diaspora – including free land grants to African-Americans. As regards earlier African cultures, they were at a considerably lower state of social and religious development than Europe was, at the time. Enlightenment thinking and development of the concept of individual freedom was already well-established in Europe by the time the slave trade became an entrenched part of British foreign policy in the mid-1600s. Slavery played no formal part at home in European societies, many of which were already at several removes from feudalism. On the contrary, however, kidnapping and enslavement were still a part of African societies at their lower stages of development – as had been the case throughout the ancient world, where slavery was ubiquitous. European societies of the period should have known better. They treated Black Africans as commodities in a way that they would never have treated their White citizens, because they chose to regard the Africans as sub-human. The individual rights for men that Europe began to conceptualise and codify hardly extended to those beyond its borders – or to women! European involvement in the slave trade made the African slavery problem far worse – as increased transatlantic demand led to more aggressive supply strategies. Finally, Africa is a big continent. A Tuareg enslaving a Kwa person – for example – is roughly equivalent to an Italian enslaving someone from Finnmark. Just because they shared the same landmass doesn’t mean that there was any kinship, fellowship, common language or culture between them.

          • Marfisa says:

            Three cheers, Althea T-H, for your excellent and informative comment.

    • BubbaGump says:

      Nothing ilustrates the USA hypocrisy like the end of WW2, with the nuclear bombs in Japan. No other nation in the world has killed 200,000 human beings with just two bombs and still “sell it” to the world as something necessary that saved lives and question other nations for having such devices. I treat any lesson coming from the US and US-Americans with suspicion and caution.

      • John Porter says:

        And what do you think would have happened had the Nazi’s or Imperialist Japan gotten the bomb first? The Japanese didn’t even surrender after the first bomb was dropped. And even after the second bomb was dropped there was a coup attempt aimed at continuing the war. The bomb did saves lives, a whole lot of them, the lives GI’s and Japanese who would have died in a ground invasion of Japan that would have led to a helluva lot more deaths than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

        • Hayne says:

          The head of the Manhattan Project said the purpose of the whole project was to subdue the Russians. Truman’s Sec of State James Byrnes and Sec of War Henry Stimson wanted the bombs dropped to deter a future war with the Soviet Union. Sociopathic or psychopathic men, I don’t care what you call them. Those were war crimes.

          • BrianB says:

            Rooting for Stalin, are you? The USSR was ready to occupy and partition Japan as an “Ally” just as they did Eastern Europe which would have spelled untold misery for Japan almost to the end of the last century and possibly beyond. Truman made the correct decision.

          • Hayne says:

            At Yalta, Roosevelt invited the Soviets to participate in Japan. Pointing out flaws in a government doesn’t mean supporting another one.

        • BrianB says:

          Had the Japanese or German war machines developed the bomb first, none of us would be posting or reading here.

        • Franz1975 says:

          @John Porter: we don’t know. Anything we say would be pure speculation. There is a reality though: no other country (capable or not to use a nuclear bomb) has ever used it and caused so much death with just two bombs. Two hundred thoussnd people, John. The Americans better be quiet about many things.

      • justin says:

        “the USA hypocrisy like the end of WW2”

        Are you trying to be funny? Without the USA, there would not have been an end to WW2 (or WW1 for that matter), or at least not an ending you would’ve wanted.

        So European, you can’t save yourselves, but when the US sacrifices its own boys to come over and save you from yourselves, y’all complain about how you were saved.

        Next time, don’t come begging again, and defend yourselves by singing Ode to Joy.

        • FrauGeigerin says:

          It is funny how Americans believe they won WW2 in Europe. Yes, there was assistance form the US which indeed help, but the fight was in Europe by Europeans, and most of the victims were European. European countries won the war in europe, not the US. So please, continue believing that what you learn in your movies is the always the truth.

          • Hayne says:

            Also, let’s not forget that half of Europe was enslaved by the Soviets after the war thanks to Roosevelt.

      • Hayne says:

        Fallacy of composition by equating all US citizens with what a few psychopaths did.

      • E Rand says:

        No other country had both the means and need to do so.

        200,000 you say? Take a look at Japanese inflicted atrocities, German atrocities and do some arithmetic – I hope you can hold onto your pencil without vomiting.

        Inconvenient truths tell us that the firebombing of Japan killed far more people (are you ok with that because it was more than “just two bombs”?) and that FAR more than 200,000 humans would have been slaughtered (on both sides) had the US needed to invade the mainland. Japan had equipped millions of women and children for suicide offense against American soldiers.

        Your opinion is that of a spoiled, armchair quarterback who has faced nothing like the deep moral quandaries posed by total war.

      • M McAlpine says:

        I think this sort of post can only be written by someone 75 years later who has never experienced a war which cost 50 million lives and the end of which was still not in sight. This does not necessarily make the dropping of the A-bomb right but I do know that many of the 100,000 men who were due to die in the cause of taking Japan were grateful.

      • Barry M. says:

        Bubbagump chose his name well- his comment is quintessential mid-wit, vanity critique, said with freedom and comfort guaranteed by the sacrifices of young American men.

      • Bone says:

        Your history lesson is incomplete: Japan had already shown its willingness to sacrifice a civilian population in Okinawa, so the death toll for Allies invading Japan was projected to be enormous. The atomic bombs ended the war prematurely for the strong-willed a Japanese and forced them to capitulate.
        Very smooth move by Hampton: he could not have timed his interest in Black composers any better.

        • Anonymous Bosch says:

          Lionel Hampton was a tremendously gifted Black composer and musician, although he often was forced to take a backseat to white men like Benny Goodman and Buddy Rich. Thanks for bringing him into the argument.

        • Paul Brown says:

          And Japan had no qualms about torturing and murdering millions of Chinese. Not to mention what Japan did to Korea…

        • Hayne says:

          Sorry Bone but Japan wanted to surrender conditionally but Roosevelt demanded an unconditional surrender. Military advisors saw this as prolonging the war and many thousands of US soldiers dying. Didn’t matter…

      • BrianB says:

        The death tolls on Iwo Jima and Okinawa alone during the war more than justify estimates that had an invasion of the Japanese mainland by the allies been necessary, over a million casualties could have been a likely result on both sides and a war lasting into the late 40s. And likely communist iron curtain style occupation of a partitioned Japan by imperialist Stalinist USSR.

      • Franz1975 says:

        So do I. The US media does an excellent job whitening the US atrocities. Yes, the Third Reich was pure evil and madness, one of the worst examples of what evil is (one my grandmother’s sisters died in a camp in 1944, and her uncle was shot in a leg – which had to be amputated – by an officer for refusing to hand in the keys of his mechanical workshop in France), but killing 200.000 persons in an instant is another example. So, please, US Americans, stop trying to give lessons to the anyone, because no other country (capable or not to do it) has ever caused so much destruction and death in an instant.

    • Marfisa says:

      A small reminder: slavery (specifically of Africans) was structurally embedded in the Americas, North and South, almost two centuries before the United States existed, when the territories were controlled by European powers. The USA’s longstanding problems with race are a direct result of that history.

      • John Borstlap says:

        The point is, that the USA had slavery structurally in their own nation, while the European nations had it delegated elsewhere. That makes quite a difference in the perception of dehumanization – whether it’s nextdoor or somewhere in ‘exotic fairytale lands’.

        • Marfisa says:

          My point was that the USA did not exist at all before the last quarter of the eighteenth century; slavery had already been embedded in Virginia, Georgia, Carolina: British colonies. And then there is the Caribbean … But of course you are right; the inhumanity was far away and out of sight, out of mind, for most people in Europe. I just feel that, while we glory in European culture, we should also honestly acknowledge and examine the dark side. I think you would agree.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Indeed. But what has it to do with culture? Artists are simply civilians who happen to be born in such society, and can’t be seen as responsible for such atrocities. Were Rameau, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Haydn etc. etc. responsible for the feudal nature of their society? I don’t think so.

      • BrianB says:

        Indeed, that was originally one of the bills of particular, charges against the King in the Declaration of Independence. But the Southern colonies insisted it be removed.

    • JJC says:

      Slavery was brought to America by Europeans. When the US could seize control of its own affairs, around 1787, it was eradicated within the span of one human life.

      • Marfisa says:

        The importation of slaves from Africa was European, but there was slavery among indigenous peoples, both before and during the colonial period.

        European countries had outlawed slavery in their colonies well before 1865. The United States took longer – but of course its problems were far greater, since the southern agricultural economy depended heavily on slavery (as it still does to some extent on low-paid migrant labor).

  • V.Lind says:

    Good for him. (And nobody that does not want to go is being forced to).

  • musician says:

    Certainly doesn’t get any whiter than T Hampson.

  • Marfisa says:

    SD forgot to put the hyperlink to the Deutsche Welle article. For those who like to read the full story before commenting, there is this:

    Some of what Thomas Hampson has to say:

    “There is another story about Black African American culture, especially the canon of classical music creativity, which seems to have existed throughout most of the 20th century like a parallel universe to the white classical culture in America.”

    “With this rekindled passion, especially in Europe, about Black Lives Matter, it seemed to me to be the exact time to let us hear from the culture itself, to try and get away from some of the political animosity and simply hear the great poets and the great composers tell the story of American culture through their eyes, in their words, in their music, and not through some white filter or some industry filter.”

    “If we really want to say we are a democracy, in whatever country you are, then the next word out of your mouth must be the celebration of diversity. If diversity isn’t celebrated, it is not a democracy, in my opinion.”

  • Peter says:

    Classical music will be hurt massively in the next years by self-proclaimed prophets who replace high quality music with mediocraty who put the musicians and their virtue signalling in first place. I don’t know anybody who cares what the composer has between his or her legs or what the skin colour is. If you find a good piece, play it, and shut up.

    • E Rand says:

      But I’ve been saying this for a while. And this includes institutions like Juilliard and Curtis committing public ritual seppuku at the alter of George Floyd. They will be ruined as people ARE wise to the charade and want the best schooling, somehow, somewhere.

  • Roman says:

    >“Europeans are always looking for voices in America that tell them how people really live and manage, how democracy really looks and works,”

    That sounds very entitled. As a European I can assure that I don’t need lessons from Americans. I prefer to live without violent riots, police violence (or ethnic crime, whatever your point of view), sinked education, impossible healthcare costs and other things Americans can teach us.

  • M says:

    Hoo boy I am going to get some downvotes here. But this is my mini op-ed on the subject. from Marion Anderson to Kathy Battle to Willard White- and I could go on and on. I mean Karajan was hiring Leontyne Price for ages. And I think bringing Mozart and Bach and the canon into minority schools is vital. But meritocracy first. Perhaps Black kids simply prefer hip-hop and rap and other forms of music? Nothing wrong with that. Scott Joplin- what a genius. What a joy. I wonder how many Black families enjoy his ingenious rags. What I oppose- strongly- hiring singers, composers, conductors, etc… someone just because he or she is Black. I have two friends, both excellent musicians now suddenly getting booked everywhere and it weighs on them… is this because i am Black or is this because I am good? Believe me they deserve it. Both incredible. But it is causing both a few mental health issues wondering, as the door opens stage right, am I just a token to please the woke masses?

    • E Rand says:

      And here M makes the most important and honest assessment of the current situation. Bravo M, I agree with you completely.

      Nothing would please me more than bringing the canon into minority schools. Tragically, we are going in the other direction – children are being taught that the canon is an artifact of white supremacy. Needn’t be learned!

      The people who push this kind of poison thinking and in the same breath demand “diversity, equity and inclusion” with equal representation in arts organizations are unserious fools who are beneath my contempt.

      • Marfisa says:

        What is the canon? What does it exclude?

        M’s black friends should seize their chances of displaying their excellence on the concert platform, and not worry about how they got there. If some equally good white person was overlooked in their favor, that is exactly what has happened to black people for a long time. The music world is a competitive place – they would not have made it if they were mediocre, whatever color of skin.

        • E Rand says:

          The canon, as I know it, excludes all kinds of mediocre to shitty music written, mostly, by white people (not surprising for a musical style originating in Europe).
          M’s point is that the music world WAS a competitive place, but he understands what you seem to not: i.e. people are going to be given positions for which they may or may not be worthy due purely to their skin color. This was racist and debasing when it benefitted whites, and it is equally racist and debasing when it benefits only blacks. This is not progress.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    Missing in the heated comments (and even in the generous one of V. Lind) is mention that “Full story here” leads nowhere, as there is no active link. So the full story still awaits…

  • M2N2K says:

    In his prime, he was a very fine baritone. Now, when his performing qualities are in decline, going woke gives him big headlines and guarantees positive reviews.

  • Dennis says:

    “Europeans are always looking for voices in America that tell them how people really live and manage, how democracy really looks and works.”

    Good God, I hope not!

    Firstly, dumbocracy doesn’t “work,” unless one considers crassness and banal leveling to be “working.”

    And secondly, importing Americanism has been a disaster for Europe, which needs to look to – and revive – its own deep cultural traditions if it is to have. a future worthy of its great past.

    Hampson should stick to Mahler, and stop the pandering PC/woke blather.