Corrections or additions?
This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the March 6, 2002
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Hannibal’s Trumpet Tribute
When the jazz trumpeter and composer who goes by the
single name Hannibal got into a showdown with the town bully at age
13, he fell into a coma that lasted three weeks. The coma ended as
abruptly as it had begun when his mother, at his bedside, heard him
ask, "Will I still be able to play my trumpet?"
"She still laughs about that," says Hannibal, with a gentle
chuckle, in a phone interview from his home in New Orleans. "She
says, `You could have said, Hi Mom first!’"
During Hannibal’s recuperation from his accident his mother, Lilian
Peterson, played John Coltrane albums. This music had a profound
on the young boy. "The music made me feel secure," Hannibal
recalls. "It also made me realize that I was a musician; that
music was my destiny."
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra performs the world premiere of a
monumental new work by Hannibal, "God, Mississippi, and A Man
Called Evers," a tribute to the murdered civil rights leader
The newly-commissioned work will feature the NJSO, led by Leslie
and a 120-voice chorus directed by J. Donald Dumpson. Guest soloists
are Janice Chandler, Marietta Simpson, Jevetta Steele, and Kevin Deas,
with baritone Arthur Woodley as Medgar Evers. "God, Mississippi,
and A Man Called Evers" will be performed on Thursday, March 7,
at the State Theater in New Brunswick, and Friday, March 8 at the
War Memorial in Trenton.
Hannibal says his own earliest memory of Medgar Evers was seeing his
mother crying when she heard news of his murder in 1963. Born and
raised in Texas, Hannibal’s mother worked as an NAACP field secretary
for 25 years in Galveson County. "Like so many unsung people who
worked for decades, she had a deep and endearing attitude toward that
organization," says Hannibal.
Hannibal, who studied trumpet and drums, formed a band while he was
a student at North Texas State University in Denton. After he moved
to New York City in 1970, he played with many influential jazz
including Gil Evans, Roland Kirk, Buck Clayton, Elvin Jones, Roy
Pharoah Sanders, and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra.
In 1974 he recorded the first of his compositions for jazz musicians
and symphony orchestra in Europe, titled "Children of Fire."
In 1989 Atlantic Records issued Hannibal’s first American recording,
"Visions of New World." NJSO performed Hannibal’s "African
Portraits" in 1998.
Medgar Evers was a Mississippi native and veteran of
World War II who served as NAACP field secretary for Mississippi from
1954 until his death. During that time Southern segregationists
their hold on government with poll taxes and voter registration exams.
In the early 1960s, as Evers traveled the state to increase black
voter registration, only five percent of Mississippi blacks were
to vote. Between 1930 and 1950, 33 lynchings were documented there.
As the state’s best-known champion of civil rights and a target of
white supremacists, Evers was murdered in June, 1963, by a single
shot from a high-powered rifle in the driveway of his home. Ten days
later, police arrested white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith whose
fingerprints were found on the abandoned rifle that killed Evers.
Beckwith was tried twice in 1964, but each time the all-white jury
failed to reach a verdict and the charges were dropped in 1969. In
1989, new evidence enabled prosecutors to reopen the case. And in
1994, after 30 years and two hung juries, Beckwith was convicted of
Hannibal says that he chose Evers as a subject who deserved to be
brought back into the public eye when he heard about the jury
process for Beckwith’s 1994 trial. "Some elders in Jackson told
me that when they were selecting jury members they had seated two
young black males, both in their 20s, who had never heard of Medgar
Evers. That’s like a pianist in Bonn not knowing Beethoven!"
"That’s a very dangerous thing. It means nothing really has
None of us can be totally confident when we say we’re free. Because
still, if I’m caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, I could
be killed because of the color of my skin. There’s still a lot of
work to be done," he says.
The text for "God, Mississippi, and A Man Called Evers" is
drawn from Evers’ diaries, as well as from poetry written by the
"The impact of Medgar in the struggle for civil rights and his
approach to gaining equality by significantly bolstering voter
amongst African-Americans has not received the recognition it rightly
deserves," notes Hannibal. "It is my intent that this
will shed some long-overdue attention on this important prophet and
the challenges he encountered during his lifetime, as well as the
dreams he had for equality."
The libretto opens with a call for healing and a new prophet to lead
humanity out of pain and suffering. "The great rains call out
for healing. The great wind cries out for healing. The great fire
cries out for healing. The whole earth cries out for healing. Please
hear these prayers… We are asking for another prophet that can heal
Hannibal’s list of prophets is inclusive. It opens with
Akhenaten, Moses, Buddha, Jesus. It includes Harriet Tubman, who,
he says, was nicknamed `Moses’ by John Brown because of the number
of people she set free. Native American Wavoka, who had a vision of
the Ghost Dance, is also invoked.
Hannibal says that although the 1996 movie, "Ghosts of
produced and directed by Rob Reiner and based on the book by Maryanne
Vollers, introduced younger generations to Evers’ story, it did not
adequately represent the hardship and suffering that Evers and his
family had to endure. He aims for "Man Called Evers" to do
"It’s a truth, not a Hollywood feel-good experience," he says.
"The work includes moments to feel proud and moments to question
this concept people have of power and of the need to have power over
"Composing gives me a great opportunity to place a mirror in front
of people. And once we see our own humanity, we’re able to see other’s
humanity. And until we recognize the other’s humanity," he says,
"we’re just sitting around with those Park Avenue phrases waiting
for the next person to get shot 41 times."
— Nicole Plett
Symphony Orchestra , State Theater, New Brunswick, 800-ALLEGRO.
$14 to $57. Thursday, March 7, 8 p.m.
Symphony Orchestra , War Memorial, Trenton, $14 to $57. Friday,
March 8, 8 p.m.
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