Hannibal Lokumbe, the former Marvin Peterson, took up trumpet at age thirteen, in 1961. By his 30th birthday, he'd played with Gil Evans, Pharoah Sanders, Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, and other heavy hitters. Dear Mrs. Parks, a work for orchestra, choir, chorale, and four featured soloists, blends many of his life's obsessions. Written in 2005 and recorded four years later with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins, Dear Mrs. Parks features little jazz, but a lot of gospel, nods to native African rhythms, and a rich imagination distinct with the composer. The former artist-in-residence at the CAC believes in God and does not hide from his faith; Dear Mrs. Parks opens with a prayer, written out in the audience's programs and recited by, from the sound of it, most of that audience. A gospel mission persists in the sung parts, spinning a tale of strife, resistance, and conquering through community.
"Mrs. Parks" is Rosa Parks, of course. The four vocal soloists--Kevin Deas, bass; Janice Chandler-Eteme, soprano; Jevetta Steele, mezzo-soprano; and Taylor Gardner, child soprano--read out four "letters" written to the civil rights legend. These letters address the horror of slavery and racism ("a history so cruel as to be never forgotten or forgiven"), sanctification of "our good sister Rosa," the power of the black woman in history both foreign and domestic, and fnally the opening prayer declaimed once more by the child. In the first three cases, the choir and chorale respond and underline the messages. After the child's rendition, a final repetition of the prayer ends the piece.
Stark packaging completes the effect. On the back of the CD booklet we see a photo portrait of an "Enslaved Woman." She's looking to the left. Rosa Parks, on the slipcase cover, sits on a bus; she's looking to the right, back at her.--OffBeat Magazine, April 2010 issue