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Celebrating Black Music: Adolphus Hailstork 

Trinity Le, CFK Intern

Adolphus Hailstork, a contemporary American composer, hails from upstate New York and currently resides in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Like so many of our great composers, Hailstork studied with famed composition teacher Nadia Boulenger, and his works have been performed by some of the most prominent ensembles of our day.  

Introduced to the world of music as a young chorister in an Episcopal cathedral boys’ choir, Hailstork’s compositions reflect a rich tapestry of influences, incorporating elements from Western classical music and English choir, as well as Black American music styles such as gospel, jazz, and blues.  

His body of work often references historical and modern-day events related to themes of black liberation, civil rights movements, and the experiences of Black Americans. Notably, his recent composition, “Knee on the Neck,” serves as a tribute to George Floyd and addresses the aftermath of his tragic death. 

Dr. Adolphus Hailstork, composer of “A Knee on the Neck,” photographed during a dress rehearsal on March 24. Yassine El Mansouri/Elman Studio/Courtesy of the National Philharmonic

Hailstork’s opera, “Rise for Freedom,” narrates the compelling story of John P. Parker, a black man who bought his freedom and became a successful iron foundry owner in Ohio. The story delves into Parker’s involvement in the underground railroad, where he confronts a Kentuckian slave owner, (one of his own customers,) to protect escaped slaves. 

Preferring programmatic music, which draws from real-life experiences, people, and events, Hailstork aims to convey deeper meanings and subjects in his compositions. His choice to explore meaningful, and sometimes disturbing events in American history serves as a call for listeners to engage with and contribute to building a more thoughtful and culturally rich society. 

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Celebrating Black Music: Adolphus Hailstork