Tulsa Opera fires composer of Greenwood massacre piece


TULSA, Okla. — The Tulsa Opera has canceled a piece written for a concert on the city’s 1921 race massacre after the composer of one of four pieces for the event refused a request to remove a curse on America from the piece.

In social media postings, New York composer Daniel Roumain said Sunday he was commissioned to write one of four libretti for a “Greenwood Overcomes” concert scheduled for a May 1 performance by the Tulsa Opera.

Roumain balked, however, when Opera officials wanted him to remove the final line from his “They Still Want To Kill Us” libretto. After the line “God Bless America,” Roumain wrote the lyric “God Damn America.”

Tobias Picker, the opera’s creative director, “suggested I omit the word ‘Damn.’ I refused, explaining that is how I felt about this county,” Roumains said of Tulsa County in a Facebook posting. “So, they fired me.”

In a statement issued by an Opera spokeswoman, Picker said: “It is extremely disappointing that Mr. Roumain has turned an artistic disagreement into a racial debate.

The Opera, singer “Denyce Graves and all of the other 22 Black composers and eight Black artists, as well as our concert co-presenter, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, are committed to the spirit of the ‘Greenwood Overcomes’ concert,” Picker said.

Kelli Bruer, the Opera spokeswoman, said Roumain would be paid his $1,500 fee, but the Opera will not perform his piece. Roumain still owns the piece and can have it performed elsewhere, she said.

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