“Highway 1, USA” is a memorable OTSL tribute to a long neglected composer | Theater reviews
By Eric Meyer Special at Post-Dispatch
For the Opera Theater in St. Louis, a ray of hope in the pandemic cloud includes “Highway 1, USA” by William Grant Still, the “dean” of African-American composers.
Originally, the singers were under contract to perform George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” this season, which turned out to be far too long for the abbreviated performance times of the socially distanced outdoor festival.
“In June 2020, however, this consideration seemed insignificant as we considered urgently renewing calls for social justice and racial equity in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others.” OTSL CEO Andrew Jorgensen said via email. . “We owe it to our community to be more genuinely inclusive of black voices.”
And that created a perfect storm for the hit “Highway 1” turned out to be during Saturday’s opening performance.
Still was an American composer of more than 200 works including eight operas, five symphonies and numerous choral and chamber pieces. He was the first African-American composer to have an opera, “Troubled Island,” produced by the New York City Opera. His “Afro-American Symphony” (1930) was, until the middle of the 20th century, widely performed.
Still composed of classical music with an American signature and an African-American voice.