‘Songs of Free Men’ – spiritual beginnings reinvented at African Meeting House
Gavin Rushing and Danny Rivera. PHOTO: ANNIELLY CARMARGO
A trio of talented musicians with Boston and Berklee College of Music roots bring a reimagined arrangement of African-American spirituals to the African Meeting House on December 1. Danny Rivera, Gavin Rushing and Matt Savage created the “Songs of Free Men” concert to celebrate the rich history of black music and to unite those who are still searching for freedom.
Rivera and Rushing began working on spirituals together in 2020, when they created and filmed a new arrangement of “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)” in response to the murder of George Floyd. This piece garnered over 70,000 views on YouTube and inspired the duo to reinvent other spirituals as well. The new arrangements use influences from a variety of genres, all of which have roots in spirituals. The “Songs of Free Men” program will also include a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“We arranged them based on our experience in the black church, based on our experience as performers, but also our connection to music based on who we are and where we come from,” explains Rushing. “There are jazz influences, R&B influences, gospel influences, black American music. Everything that influenced us was put into this music to bring a new twist and a new flavor.
Spirituals have a rich history, but Rivera points out that black Americans, and many others, are still not free. These themes and emotions relate to current challenges and are also meant to stimulate thinking about the future of American society.
Produced in collaboration with the Museum of African American History and the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Racial Equity, the concert will debut at the First African Meeting House in Beacon Hill. The band is also hosting a tour of the concert with scheduled performances in New York, Washington, DC and Georgia in 2023.
Kicking off the concert in Boston’s African Meeting House, the oldest surviving black church in the United States, brings significant spiritual gravitas to the performance. The concert isn’t about religious ideology, but playing it in the space where so many black abolitionists and leaders have worked, played, and prayed throughout history deeply connects the performers to their ancestors.
The December 1 concert is free and open to the public, but seat reservations must be made in advance. Audiences can follow the progress of the tour on Rivera’s Instagram, @dannyrivera_.
Rivera hopes the concert will be an opportunity to bring together all those struggling with oppression.
“Some stories are rooted in faith but actually provide collective entry points for anyone seeking liberation,” Rivera says. “What I hope is that through this music people can find freedom within, people can find the opportunity and reason to connect regardless of age, gender, creed , creed or race.