Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” Explores Final Words of Black Men

The very question of ‘why?’ sort of sets up the whole rest of the piece,” says composer Joel Thompson. ”Why is this happening? Particularly to unarmed people of a certain community.” 

Jake Neher/WDET

U of M Men’s Glee Club Conductor Eugene Rogers

Seven Last Words of the Unarmed is a multi-movement piece of music exploring the final words of African American men who have died untimely deaths — in many cases, while interacting with police. You probably know many of their names: Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner.

The University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club has been performing the piece along with the Academy Award-winning song “Glory” by Common and John Legend. The group recently returned from a tour of South Africa where it performed the work. And a documentary containing the full performance and a music video called “Love, Life, and Loss” is expected to air next month on Detroit Public Television.

Seven Last Words… composer Joel Thompson and U of M Men’s Glee Club Director Eugene Rogers join Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson to talk about the piece.

It was shortly after the grand jury failed to indict the officer whose actions led to the death of Eric Garner,” says Thompson. ”And the piece was really my response to that event.”

Thompson talks about beginning the piece with the final words of Kenneth Chamberlain, 66, “Why do you have your guns out?” 

The very question of ‘why?’ sort of sets up the whole rest of the piece,” says Thompson. ”Why is this happening? Particularly to unarmed people of a certain community.”

Glee Club Director Eugene Rogers talks about introducing the piece to his students, who are mostly white.

I welcomed the students to have their own opinions about who’s responsible, where this should lie, who’s guilty, but at least we could all agree on the value of human life and then allow us and them in their own way to work through these political issues,” says Rogers. “It’s been absolutely remarkable to see how the students have, through singing the words of these individuals… through that journey it has really, I think, provided a great place for students to know that they can agree and disagree respectfully and be stronger in the end.”

To hear the full conversation, click on the audio link above.

Here is the trailer for “Love, Life, and Loss”:



And here is the full audio of Seven Last Words of the Unarmed:

Image credit: University of Michigan Arts and Culture

Filed Under: #cops #music #race #police
About the Author

Wait a second, there’s more…

Stories and Objects About "Them"

How To Handle Our Racist Perceptions: Personal Decisions Are Cornerstone Of Racism, Classism

Oscars Preview: A Look at the Films, and Hollywood and Race

Author Susan Whitall Reissues Her Book "Women of Motown: An Oral History"

New Dean Of UM Music, Arts, Theater: Students Need To Be Artists And Entreprenuers

Race, Opportunity, and the Art of Cohesion

Greektown Businesses Install Security Cameras on Streets

Sweep Nets Nearly 90 Alleged Gang Members

What is Race and Will it Ever be Irrelevant?

Sam’s Jams 005: Words and music with Detroit artist Xavier Jack

People Travel From Around the World to Birthplace of Techno, Movement 2015

Wayne State University Celebrates 45 Years with African American Studies

Taylor Swift covers Earth Wind and Fire's "September" for Spotify Singles Collection.

Stream Live: "Detroit Performs Live" wsg Jessica Hernandez, Bettye LaVette & Alexander Zonjic

<i> Far Off Sounds</i> Takes Viewers Into A World Of Strange and Beautiful Music

Live From Studio A: Detroit psych-rock band 3FT perform "Hey Love"

A Celebration of Detroit Sound

Ann Delisi Interviews Iggy Pop and Jim Jarmusch

Open Competition for Screenwriters of Diversity in the Film Industry

StoryCorps Detroit Podcast: House, Techno, Raves and Voguing

Detroit Police Department Then and Now

Standout Detroit House Songs

Detroit Mayor, Police Chief Encouraged but Not Satisfied by Detroit's Lower Crime Numbers

Public Clashes over Future of Detroit Grand Prix

Detroit and Chicago: Police, Community, and the DOJ

Free Book Exchanges Coming to Detroit Police Precincts

Jazz Guitarists Peter Bernstein And Randy Napoleon Perform Live In WDET's Studio A

Stephen Talks with Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates on Race and Mass Incarceration

We want to hear from you.
Share your thoughts and opinions: