by Anthony R. Green
Hello BIBA Readers! Apologies for the brief BIBA hiatus, AND Happy Belated Mother's Day! Castle of our Skins is gearing up for its next project - its first multi-event project - entitled I AM A MAN 2019. As a companion project to last year's Ain't I a Woman? project, I AM A MAN 2019 explores this civil rights declariation in the contexts of Black masculinity, humanity and equality, and - of course - music. Musicians have been commenting on issues of masculinity throughout music for decades in various ways. Blind Tom's depiction of war in his stunning piano piece Battle of Manassas (1861) depicts the juxtapostion of external masculinty, ritual, and inner-struggle in a wild, musical fantasy. Paul Robeson's interpretation of Old Man River (Oscar Hammerstein II, 1936) expresses a frustration with what is expected from a Black man, transcending the lyrics. James Brown's proclamation in the song It's a Man's Man's Man's World captures how men do not acknowledge the role of women enough in their life (notwithstanding this song's lyrics were written by a woman, Bettye Jean Newsome). The list goes on! In the world of opera, one stunning example comes from Terence Blanchard's first opera Champion, about the life of the boxer Emile Griffith.
The career of Griffith was stunning and controversial. One of the greatest boxers of all time, his most infamous match resulted in his opponent - Benny Paret - dying 10 days after losing the match from a harsh knockout. Griffith, however, was not straight. He did not identify as gay, bisexual, or homosexual; he did not want to associate himself with such labels. His most powerful quote: “I kill a man and most people forgive me. However, I love a man and many say this makes me an evil person.” From this one line, it is obvious how much Griffith must have contemplated what being a man means ... or what it should mean, rather.
Blanchard's opera takes this contemplation and expounds on it in an aria titled What makes a man a man? Blanchard's music, combined with a libretto by Michael Cristofer, questions stereotypes while affirming some basic truths that perhaps are not so masculine to admit. Below is a video (beware of the volume level), followed by a transcription of the text (unofficial). Enjoy, and do not forget to check out the many events and details of the upcoming I AM A MAN 2019 project!
What makes a man a man? What makes a man the man he is? Is it the flesh and bone inside, outside? Is it the skin he wears? The color of his voice? The walk he walks? The talk he talks? Inside? Outside?
What makes this man a man? Is it the life he’s lived? The yesterdays or what he dreamed for – the tomorrow days? Inside? Outside?
You hide your heart somewhere – somewhere inside. You hear it beat. You hear it sing. It cries and talks to you, and tells you what you feel is what you feel inside. It makes you strong, or does it make you weak outside? You hide your soul somewhere, somewhere inside. You feel it pull. You feel it lift. It carries you and takes you where you know you have to go.
And love – and love – and love is in this heart, and in this soul. It makes you strong inside, or does it make you weak inside, outside?
And somewhere there, where love is living, there is a man who is a man I am inside – the man I am. And outside, outside, this man that all this world can see, who is this man? Who is this man who calls himself me?
There was no sound, there were no people I could see. In my head, the place was empty. There was no one there but me...
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