2019-2020: Hutchins Fellow
Imani Uzuri, raised in rural North Carolina, is an award-winning vocalist, composer, librettist, and improviser called “a postmodernist Bessie Smith" by the Village Voice. She composes, creates interdisciplinary works and performs at international venues and festivals.
Her ritual performance Wild Cotton was recently cited as one "with subtlety and vision" by the New York Times.
As a Jerome Foundation Composer/Sound Artist Fellow, Uzuri made international sojourns in support of her forthcoming large music work celebrating the iconography of the Black Madonna, which is currently being developed as part of her HARP (HERE Artist Residency Program) Fellowship. In 2018, Uzuri was a commissioned composer for Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. She is currently a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works commissionee. Uzuri is a former Park Avenue Armory Artist-in-Residence and was a 2019 Composer-in-Residence at Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France. Uzuri recently completed her Masters at The Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS) at Columbia University where she researched the liturgy, music and prayer room practice of New Orleans' based mystic, visual artist and prophetess Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980) -for which she is in process of developing a companion performative and conceptual prayer room project: Come On In The Prayer Room. Uzuri is currently composing and writing the libretto for a new chamber opera entitled Hush Arbor (The Opera) a mercurial musical meditation exploring themes of death, transcendence, rebirth, impermanence and “liminality” (standing at the threshold).
Imani Uzuri will be composing and writing a large music work Hush Arbor (The Opera). Hush arbors (also known as bush meetings, hush harbors, brush harbors and brush arbors) were hidden gathering places created by enslaved African Americans in wooded areas of the American South to secretly worship, commune, strategize rebellion and provide sanctuary for each other. African American Spirituals originated in ritual spaces such as these. During her fellowship year, Uzuri will 1) complete the opera’s compositional score, 2) develop the libretto (narrative) which will incorporate original text, inspiration from [en]slaved African-American narratives, African American spirituals which speak of transcendence, impermanence death, maroonage and rebirth, African American and African derived folklore about birth, death, death rites and the after life as well as featuring original thematic vignettes which will synthesize the opera's main theme of liminality (standing at the threshold). For her Colliquiium Talk, Uzuri will share her research on historical hush arbors, her research on African American Spirituals and African American and African derived folklore that deal with themes of transcendence, death and rebirth as well as presenting a petite work-in-progress chamber concert of Hush Arbor (The Opera) incorporating the new compositions and libretto.