Adrian Dunn and his group, the Adrian Dunn singers, have recently released a collection of modern spirituals and gospel songs, entitled Revelations. The purpose behind the release, which includes both an album and sheet music, is multi-faceted and powerful. Each song—from “Wade in the Water” to “Precious, Lord”– honors a young man killed by senseless violence in the U.S. The songs have been masterfully rearranged by Dunn and the vocals of his group are resoundingly powerful.
“Part of what we’re doing is raising awareness around printed music and the value around what justice looks like, not just for these young men whose lives have been cut short but for Black composers having agency of their own work,” Dunn recently told the Defender.
“Justice looks like something very different in 2019. In creating this project, I didn’t want it to be just another Black history project. I wanted it to be something real and powerful and poignant. And justice is woven throughout the DNA of the entire project. It is by a Black composer/arranger and it is self-published…this is what it truly means to share your own story on your own terms.
“One thing I try to answer is what does redemption look like,” Dunn added. “Music is one way to keep these young men’s memory alive; they never die by us never forgetting.”
The project is also a way to merge history with some of the contemporary issues of the day.
“Trayvon Martin is so similar to Emmett Till in so many ways…these are stories we have known before, stories that already happened to us in history,” Dunn observed. “Tying them to the spirituals is not only powerful, it continues to keep their memory alive and spirituals alive. We have a rich history of our people post-slavery alive today.”
Along with the spirituals on the album, Dunn includes a gospel section with the theme of empowerment, identity and affirmation.
Dunn, a Cleveland native and Chicago resident, also said it is important to lift up the contributions of African Americans in music and the arts at a time when most groups singing the spirituals are not Black.
“We really have to expand the narrative about how we consume culture, even historical culture. We need to ask questions about where we spend our dollars, what we support. I think it is a big deal being a young composer doing work that I feel a lot of young Black folks are not interested in doing…we could go in directions that are more lucrative; a lot of us don’t get the support that we need to sustain the work.
“We have to evolve and reinvent the spirituals—it has to have a life space beyond the concert stage. We have to continue to reimagine the work.”
Dunn said his group, who recently sang at Trinity United Church of Christ and Northshore Baptist Church in Chicago, performs outside of Chicago more than in Chicago.
Dunn said he hopes more people will support the group’s effort by getting the word out and sharing about them on social media. “We don’t get the same exposure as our other colleagues in the hip hop field. We need positive press…we are trying to keep young people’s memories alive. We are classically trained and it is hard for us to get play.”
Dunn, who is an artist in residence, at Governor’s State, will also direct his original musical “Hopera,” which he wrote to expose young Black people to opera music, this spring. The musical combines hip hop and opera.
You can find out more about Dunn’s work and order the music at adriandunn.com