logo for Life & Death recital

Art songs of African American &
African diaspora composers

Cherry Duke, mezzo-soprano & Esequiel Meza, Jr., piano


UTEP Department of Music Faculty Recital
Saturday, October 8, 2022, 6:00 p.m. (Mountain Time)
Fox Fine Arts Recital Hall, University of Texas at El Paso
> CLICK HERE for full information <

Texoma Conference of the National Association of Teachers of Singing
(Shortened program)
Thursday, November 10, 2022, 2:00 p.m. (Central Time)
Artist Series, West Texas A&M University, Canyon, TX

KTEP Radio
(Full-length program, recorded October 8, 2022)
Friday, February 24, 2023, 7:00 p.m. (Mountain Time)

SHSU Art Song Festival
(Modified program: Song Cycles of African Heritage Composers)
February 25, 2023, 12:00 p.m. (Mountain Time)
Sam Houston State University

–Available for booking–

The contributions of Black classical composers have been historically overlooked in the United States. But there is a nearly endless supply of exciting, touching, gorgeous music by African American and African diaspora composers, and this program delivers a delicious sampling of them. A sampling of this repertoire is below.

LIFE & DEATH showcases works for voice and piano by underrepresented composers, specifically art songs by African American and African diaspora composers, including several women and three Latin American composers, ranging from the 18th to the 21st century. In addition to English language pieces, the program includes songs in Italian, German, French, and Spanish, some of which have never before been performed in the United States. The texts address a wide range of life experiences, including daily existence, celebration, passion, indecision, heartbreak, grief, and death. This diverse and exciting recital concludes with a gospel-infused spiritual that will bring the audience to their feet.

ORIGIN: This program was curated by the University of Texas at El Paso Voice Professor and El Paso Opera Artistic Associate Cherry Duke, as an outgrowth of her research on “Diversity in Vocal Repertoire,” supported by a 2021 Career Enhancement Award from the UTEP College of Liberal Arts.

COMPOSERS AND WRITERS: The music includes works by American composers Harry T. Burleigh, Howard Swanson, William Grant Still, Robert Owens, Florence Price, Margaret Bonds, Rosephanye Powell, Undine Smith Moore, and Jacqueline Hairston; Caribbean composers Joseph Bologne, Carmen Brouard, and Mariela Rodríguez; and British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Texts are by Harlem Renaissance poets and various other writers (Black and white) from the U.S., Europe, and the Caribbean.

LENGTH: The recital can be anywhere from 50 to 80 minutes in length, depending on your needs, and includes brief spoken introductions to give the audience appropriate background.

CONTEXT: The performers encourage this program to be paired with a “talk-back” or another discussion, to facilitate an increased understanding of the history and availability of this category of art. Collaboration with African American studies experts may be helpful as well. An extensive program with thoroughly researched notes accompanies the program.

About the Performers

Mezzo-soprano Cherry Duke has performed over 50 principal roles with opera companies and orchestras throughout the US and abroad. Duke also toured with the AMERICAN SPIRITUAL ENSEMBLE from 2011–14, and sang with them virtually in 2020. She was a soloist in A SPIRITUAL MESSIAH created by John Wesley Wright and performed in recital with Wright in A SPIRITUAL CHRISTMAS. In 2021, Duke was a soloist with the El Paso Symphony Orchestra in the world premiere of Jorge Martín’s EL PASO REQUIEM and played Julia Child in Lee Hoiby’s mono-opera BON APPÉTIT with El Paso Opera. As an Artistic Associate with El Paso Opera, Duke is a co-producer of the annual GIVING VOICE festival, designed to amplify Latinx voices in opera. In the summers of 2021 and 2022 she attended “Singing Down the Barriers,” a week-long intensive course of study with top scholars of vocal works by Black composers. Since 2015, Cherry Duke has served as director of opera and professor of voice at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Accomplished concert pianist and coach/accompanist Esequiel Meza, Jr. has coached multiple productions for El Paso Opera, served as Music Director for Stagedoor Manor Institute of the Performing Arts in New York, as an accompanist for Arizona Opera, and several other organizations. He has performed as a guest soloist with the Juarez Bi-National Symphony Orchestra and the symphonies of Corpus Christi, Bordeaux, and Shreveport. Meza has won several awards and has taught on the faculty of the University of Oklahoma where he was also Assistant Dean of Fine Arts and at the University of Bordeaux III in Talence, France. He holds degrees in piano performance from Sam Houston State University, the University of Arizona, and Indiana University. Since 2016, Dr. Meza has been the principal pianist and vocal coach for the opera program at the University of Texas at El Paso.

For information about booking “Life & Death” at your venue, contact Cherry Duke.