From the Diary of Sally Hemings

Sandra Seaton’s recent work, From The Diary Of Sally Hemings, is a collaboration with composer William Bolcom , who set Seaton’s text to music.  A song cycle, the work recreates the thoughts and feelings of Sally Hemings throughout her long relationship with Thomas Jefferson by means of fictional diary entries.  CD available on White Pine.  Score available at Hal Leonard.

From The Diary Of Sally Hemings was performed by mezzo-soprano Florence Quivar throughout the United States during 2001 and 2002.  Ms. Quivar, who commissioned the work, sings in the performance listed below:

World Premiere, Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress, March 16, 2001
West Coast Premiere, San Francisco Performances, Herbst Theatre, April 16, 2001
Lied Center, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, February 5, 2002
Van Wezel Performing Arts Society, Sarasota, Florida, February 8, 2002
University Musical Society, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, February 13 & 17, 2002
Vocal Arts Society at the Kennedy Center, Recital Hall, Washington, DC, February 19, 2002
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, February 21, 2002
Atlanta, Georgia, February 23, 2002

Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress, District of Columbia

“In the world premiere of a new song cycle by William Bolcom with text by playwright Sandra Seaton, mezzo-soprano Florence Quivar’s “burnished, seductive voice” (Houston Voice) brings to life this imaginative recreation of a complex, vital Sally Hemings who refuses to be identified merely as Jefferson’s mistress.”

Library of Congress Press Release (pdf)
January 22, 2001

Photos from the World Premiere of From the Diary of Sally Hemings, March 16, 2001

William Bolcom

William Bolcom and Sandra Seaton outside the Library of Congress


Pre-performance reception in the Great Hall, Library of Congress


Hemings-Jefferson descendants with William Bolcom , Sandra Seaton, CMU President Rao, Monica Rao, and Hattye Harris (Sandra Seaton’s mother).

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Sandra Seaton and CMU President Rao

Hemings-Jefferson descendants 2

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Hemings-Jefferson descendants, including Shay Banks and Julia Westiren Jefferson, with Sandra Seaton

Shays and Seaton

Shay Banks (Madison Hemings descendant) and Sandra Seaton


J.J. Penna (accompanist), Sandra Seaton, William Bolcom , and Florence Quivar take curtain calls after the performance


J.J.Penna and Florence Quivar take curtain call

Herbst Theatre, San Francisco
“Renowned for her vibrantly rich tone and dramatic versatility, Florence Quivar is equally home on the opera, concert, and recital stages. This made her a natural choice for a Music Accord commission, and she has made a particularly fascinating choice for the subject of her song cycle: the story of Sally Hemings, slave and mistress of Thomas Jefferson. With music by noted American composer, William Bolcom and a wonderful libretto by playwright Sandra Seaton, this promises to be a memorable evening.”

– Clifford Orent Trustee, San Francisco Performances from Stagebill, April, 2001

Florence Quivar and Harolyn Blackwell perform together at venues listed below:

Two of America’s finest and most respected artists, Florence Quivar and Harolyn Blackwell, appear in recital together for the first time, performing song cycles by two acclaimed composers.  Florence Quivar sings From the Diary of Sally Hemings, an imaginative recreation of a complex, vital Sally Hemings who refuses to be identified merely as Thomas Jefferson’s mistress.  The song cycle was composed especially for her by William Bolcom to a text by Sandra Seaton.  Blackwell offers Honey and Rue, composed by Andre Previn to a text by Toni Morrison.  The program is supplemented by duets, songs, operatic selections and spirituals.

Joint performances by Florence Quivar and Harolyn Blackwell were held at the following sites:
Lied Center Series, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas
University Musical Society, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Vocal Art Society, Washington, DC


Review by Joshua Rosenblum of White Pine Music CD
Opera News, August 1, 2010

Review by James Manheim of White Pine Music CD, 2010

“Sandra Seaton: Her First Libretto”
By David Lewman
LASNews: Alumni Magazine for the College of Arts and Sciences, Spring, 2003, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana

Sung with Feeling Ronald Broun Washington Post (pdf)
Review by Ronald Broun
The Washington Post, February 21, 2002

Song cycle explores presidential tryst (pdf)
Review by Paul Horsley
The Kansas City Star, February 7, 2002

“Hemings”: Shards of History
William Bolcom’s New Song Cycle Gives A Wide Berth To Melodrama
Review by Philip Kennicott
The Washington Post

Diaries Give Voice to Hemings Story (pdf)
Review by Georgia Rowe
TimeOut, April 9, 2001

Work Premiered at Library of Congress (pdf)
Review by Wendi L. Baker
The Morning Sun, April 2, 2001

For more information on Sally Hemings & Thomas Jefferson, please visit the PBS/Frontline site, “Jefferson’s Blood.”

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