John E. Dowell, Damien Geter, Denyce Graves, Justin Austin, Laura Ward

John E. Dowell, Damien Geter, Denyce Graves, Justin Austin, Laura Ward
Tue, Feb 28, 7:30 p.m.
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Outstanding artists of many disciplines unite to explore African American stories touched by the ‘soft, dangerous beauty’ of cotton

This first annual Washington Performing Arts Ruth Bader Ginsburg Memorial Recital offers a powerful song cycle drawing on premier talents in both the performing and visual arts—including the legendary mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, Washington Performing Arts’s 2016 Ambassador for the Arts, a favorite artist of Justice Ginsburg’s, and a performer at the late Justice’s funeral.

COTTON was imagined, curated, and commissioned by Philadelphia’s Lyric Fest recital series in commemoration of their 20th Anniversary. The work was inspired by photographer John E. Dowell’s similarly named work, COTTON, whose own inspiration was a dream of Dowell’s, in which his late grandmother called upon him to visit the cotton fields of South Carolina, where their ancestors were likely enslaved. Dowell’s haunting and often surreal images situate cotton in an African American narrative both past and present, from rural Southern fields to the concrete canyons of New York City. Rising-star composer Damien Geter, hailed by the Washington Post for “an ambitious, transformative vision—one fully and radically realized,” has crafted an intensely moving song cycle rooted in Dowell’s work, with lyrics by a phenomenal list of poets: Nikki Giovanni, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Afaa Michael Weaver, Lauren K. Alleyne, Charlotte Blake Alston, Glenis Redmond, Alora Young, and Trapeta Mayson.

Joining Ms. Graves in performing COTTON are the up-and-coming singer Justin Austin, praised for his “mellifluous baritone” (Wall Street Journal), who made his Metropolitan Opera debut in the 2021/22 Season; and pianist Laura Ward, an international touring and recording artist and the director of Lyric Fest. With projections of images by Dowell accompanying the performance, COTTON promises to be a feast for the senses, a spark for the imagination, and a highlight of the season.

Note: Justin Austin also appears on February 10 in Our Song, Our Story.

This performance is an external rental presented in coordination with the Kennedy Center Campus Rentals Office and is not produced by the Kennedy Center.

COTTON: The Creative Process | Live Q&A
Wednesday, February 22, 2023, at 6 p.m.

Photographer John E. Dowell, poet Lauren K. Alleyne, and producer and Lyric Fest co-founder and co-artistic director Suzanne DuPlantis discuss the creative development of the new song cycle COTTON—an immersive exploration of African American stories through song, verse, and photography. The conversation, moderated by American University Literature professor Dr. Keith D. Leonard, explores how history and photography inspired this powerful interpretation of the African American experience, as well as how poetry, music, film, and photography meld to create something entirely new in this multi-media production. The 90-minute forum and viewer Q&A will be livestreamed on Washington Performing Arts’s Facebook and YouTube channels. Free. No registration required.

COTTON Education Residency with Words Beats & Life

Washington Performing Arts developed a residency with Words Beats & Life exploring and responding to the powerful photography of artist John E. Dowell with a special spoken-word performance featuring world-premiere works by eight local youth poets. Words Beats & Life’s Youth Poet Laureate (YPL) Program aims to identify young writers and leaders who are committed to civic & community engagement, artistic excellence, human relations, youth activism, diversity and education across the region. Explore their COTTON Edition of the LitMag and watch video performances of the work that evolved from this process.

Our Partners

Washington Performing Arts’s presentation of this project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, Mr. Michael Sonnenreich, and the Galena-Yorktown Foundation.

Washington Performing Arts’s classical music performances this season are made possible in part through the generous support of Betsy and Robert Feinberg.

Washington Performing Arts also thanks the dozens of donors to the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Memorial Award and Recital Fund who helped make this concert possible.

Special thanks to the following lead supporters of Washington Performing Arts’s mission-driven work: Jacqueline Badger Mars and Mars, Incorporated; D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities; the National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs Program and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts; The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation; and the Dallas Morse Coors Foundation for the Performing Arts.

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