Music for voice, soprano saxophone and piano, set to the poetry of Maya Angelou, A Georgia Song was a key part of a two-concert series created by the composer entitled I Too Sing America.

Premiered by Darryl Taylor and featured on the album Fire In Heaven And Earth: Music Of Theodore Wiprud.


for tenor, soprano saxophone, and piano / 13 min.

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Program Note

How can a white composer offer an authentic musical response to African-American poetry rooted in a history of striving against oppression? That was my question when Darryl Taylor asked me to set poetry of Maya Angelou for him. Darryl responded with a great truth, still not universally accepted: that any composer can and should bring an individual response to any poetry they find moving. No group has a monopoly on any cultural expression. I was moved and challenged by his conviction, and soon completed A Georgia Song, a setting of Maya Angelou’s poem of the same name, for tenor with soprano saxophone and piano.

Maya Angelou’s deeply ambivalent paean to the South invokes the names of Georgia cities and towns, with warm associations of home as well as blood-chilling recollections of cruelty. With its intense bittersweetness, its recurring but varied refrain, and its innate musical rhythms and vowel sounds, “A Georgia Song” proved a potent text for this composer. This extended song was the first work I composed on returning from a year in England, where I marinated in all things European. It was in A Georgia Song that I declared my allegiance to the whole panoply of American musics; influences on this work range from Charles Ives to Robert Johnson.

A Georgia Song was commissioned in 1990 by Echosphere, an ensemble including Darryl Taylor, pianist Deon Nielsen-Price, and saxophonist Bill Wilson. It is dedicated to Darryl, who opened to me a whole new range of literary and musical possibilities.

—Theodore Wiprud

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A Georgia Song
by Maya Angelou

We swallow the odors of Southern cities,
Fat back boiled to submission,
Tender evening poignancies of
Magnolia and the great green
Smell of fresh sweat.
In Southern fields,
The sound of distant
Feet running, or dancing,

And the liquid notes of
Sorrow songs,
Waltzes, screams, and
French quadrilles float over
The loam of Georgia.

Sing me to sleep, Savannah.

Clocks run down in Tara’s halls and dusty
Flags droop their unbearable

Remember our days, Susannah.

Oh, the blood-red clay,
Wet still with ancient
Wrongs, and Abenaa
Singing her Creole airs to
We long, dazed, for winter evenings
And a whitened moon,
And the snap of controllable fires.

Cry for our souls, Augusta.

We need a wind to strike
Sharply, as the thought of love
Betrayed can stop the heart.
An absence of tactile
Romance, no lips offering
Succulence, nor eyes
Rolling, disconnected from
A Sambo face.

Dare us new dreams, Columbus.

A cool new moon, a
Winter’s night, calm blood,
Sluggish, moving only
Out of habit, we need

Oh Atlanta, oh deep, and
Once lost city,

Chant for us a new song. A song
Of Southern peace.

© 1983 Maya Angelou. All rights reserved.

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