From the Diary of Sally Hemings, a song cycle for voice and piano with libretto by Sandra Seaton and music by composer William Bolcom, was written at the request of mezzo soprano Florence Quivar. The work recreates the thoughts and feelings of Sally Hemings throughout her long relationship with Thomas Jefferson by means of fictional diary entries. The 18 songs in this imaginary journal provide a surprising yet persuasive interpretation of the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, officially a slave but also the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson. The songs trace the life of Sally Hemings from her earliest memory, Martha Jefferson dying from complications following childbirth, to her sojourn in Paris with Jefferson and finally her life with Jefferson at Monticello until his death.
Premiered by mezzo soprano Florence Quivar and pianist J.J. Penna at Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress with additional performances at Kennedy Center, San Francisco Performances, Lied Center, Rialto, and University Musical Society. Performed by soprano Alyson Cambridge and pianist Lydia Brown at Carnegie Hall, Central Michigan University, Harkness Memorial Chapel in Cleveland and Oberlin Conservatory. CD available on White Pine.
Image: From the Diary of Sally Hemings; Music by William Bolcom; Text by Sandra Seaton; Alyson Cambridge, soprano; Lydia Brown, piano; White Pine Music (2010).
In Naomi Andre’s new book, Black Opera History Power and Engagement, a chapter titled “Haunted Legacies: Interracial Secrets from The Diary of Sally Hemings,” provides an in depth treatment of this powerful work.
Find Andre’s book here.
To purchase the CD online at Amazon, please click here.
To purchase the score at Hal Leonard, please click here.