Black Wings
Composer: William Harper
Librettist: Theodore Shank
Other Artistic Personnel: Adele Edling Shank, dramaturg
Premiere Date: Not available.
Description: On a Texas range in 1922, Cody, a white cowboy, is aching with boredom when an open cockpit biplane comes into view, sputters, and disappears. Soon Bessie, a young black woman dressed as an aviator, appears carrying a gasoline can. As night falls, Bessie's gospel-singing spiritual mentor, Moselynne, appears in the heavens commanding her to help her people to fly, to fill the sky with the music of black wings. But Bessie has a dilemma—at the urging of the jazzy siren-like Dead Aviatrixes she is tempted to fly to stardom. Cody follows Bessie to Chicago where he descends into the slaughterhouse grime of the city, and Bessie flies, performing as a stunt pilot in rented dilapidated planes. The obstacles she faces, including the enmity of veteran World War I pilots who think that women should not lark around in cloudland, almost cause her to lose hope. When Bessie is about to achieve Moselynne's dream, she is thrown from her rented plane during a risky stunt. But a little girl has been moved by Bessie's example and is determined to fly. The Dead Aviatrixes and Moselynne celebrate Bessie's life as she joins them.
Length: 02:30
Total Acts: 2
Musical Style: Jazz; blues; country; gospel
Contact: Theodore Shank
E-mail Address: tshank@ucsd.edu
Phone: 858-755-3303
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