First World War Black veterans returned home from fighting in France, hoping to be recognized as equal citizens in this country. Despite their sacrifices and service, they faced continued oppression and harsh treatment under Jim Crow laws. The 1919 riots, also known as The Red Summer, marked a turning point as Black citizens supported by these returning veterans fought against their mistreatment for the first time.
In the late 1990s, J. Kimo Williams was commissioned by The National Opera Orchestra (InterSound Records) to arrange Mozart Arias for their instrumental orchestra release. It was quite the challenge in that the lyrics associated with opera are so important that sometimes the essence of the music that supports the story can be overlooked.
In 2023, Williams decided to bring visibility to Black WWI Veterans and wanted to tell their story in this format. This Progressive-Rock Jazz-Fusion project, titled ‘Red Summer 1919: An Instrumental Opera,’ is his musical approach to imagining the historical events leading up to the riots. Williams composed new music and used themes from previous works to set each scene. Relaying the visual narrative to the instrumentalists, Vinnie Colaiuta (Jeff Beck, Herbie Handcock, Sting), Michael Brecker, and Mike Stern, they used their imagination to create a musical representation of each scene through their improvisation or (in the case of Vinnie) shape the scene through rhythm.
“As Veterans Day 2023 draws near, also remembered as Armistice Day, it offers a moment for deep reflection on the multifaceted identities and experiences of us as Veterans. Beyond the common public perception of Veterans as merely fighters or warriors lies a tapestry of individual stories, beliefs, and reasons for serving, unconstrained by political party lines. A poignant chapter in this narrative is that of the Black Veterans of WWI. Their journey, both on the battlefield and upon their return home, intertwines with the long-standing thread of American racism. By delving into their experiences, we are reminded of the richness of each Veteran’s story and the need to move beyond monolithic representations. Let this Veterans Day be a celebration of diversity, historical understanding, and deep respect for all those who have served,” says J. Kimo Williams, Captain (Ret) US Army, Vietnam 1970.
Liner notes that include each scene narrative breakdown can be found at https://omikmusic.com/rs%3A-act-i-liner-notes
Official Video is at: https://youtu.be/YqkgzN2kQhw
The project will be available on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and other streaming platforms.
Physical Copies (CD, Vinyl) are available at http://www.kimowilliams.com