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

impact

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

Medgar

Evers.

The newly-commissioned work will feature the NJSO, led by Leslie

Dunner

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

performers,

including Gil Evans, Roland Kirk, Buck Clayton, Elvin Jones, Roy

Haynes,

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

tightened

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

registered

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

the crime.

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

selection

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

happened.

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

composer.

"The impact of Medgar in the struggle for civil rights and his

approach to gaining equality by significantly bolstering voter

registration

amongst African-Americans has not received the recognition it rightly

deserves," notes Hannibal. "It is my intent that this

composition

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

this world."

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

Mississippi,"

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

more.

"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

others."

"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

God, Mississippi and a Man Called Evers, New Jersey

Symphony Orchestra , State Theater, New Brunswick, 800-ALLEGRO.

$14 to $57. Thursday, March 7, 8 p.m.

God, Mississippi and a Man Called Evers, New Jersey

Symphony Orchestra , War Memorial, Trenton, $14 to $57. Friday,

March 8, 8 p.m.


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