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John Holiday: Hold On! Freedom Is Coming!


Inspired by the iconic American modernist Jacob Lawrence's painting series "Struggle: From the History of the American People" (1954–56), countertenor John Holiday creates an urgent program that juxtaposes selections from classical Italian opera with songs by African American composers from the era of the American civil rights movement, including Margaret Bonds and H. Leslie Adams.

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Notes on the program:

After The Met invited me to do this recital in the summer of 2019, I walked through the Museum's massive and jaw-dropping exhibitions and collection. During my time in the Museum, I was enamored by all of the ways in which this iconic institution recognizes humanity, and the contributions of artists to make our world a better and more beautiful place.

As an African American, I was particularly moved by The Met's choice to display that beauty, coupled with the sadness that has sometimes plagued our world—most notably artwork depicting slavery and oppression in its many forms. It was then that I decided I wanted to do something different, something that was meaningful, heart-wrenching, thought-provoking, and soul-stirring. It was in Jacob Lawrence's "Struggle" series that I found my inspiration for this evening's recital. Specifically, I was gutted by panel 5, titled We have no property! We have no wives! No children! We have no city! No country! —petition of many slaves, 1773.

It immediately evoked a visceral reaction within my body, mind, and spirit. Seeing these men in chains, grasping for freedom—fighting for every single thing that they were, indeed, worthy of—reminded me of a quote that is often attributed to Harriett Tubman: "If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there's shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going." These are words that continue to sustain me.

Without ceasing, I speak the names of my ancestors, both known and unknown, who, in spite of the deaths of loved ones and bearing the brunt of slave masters, kept going so that I might be. They kept going and holding on because there was a dream, and, then, a knowing...a knowing that they would bare the seed of the free. I am a seed of the free. So, Hold On! Freedom Is Coming!

—John Holiday

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle.

This program is made possible by Beth and Gary Glynn. Additional support is provided by
The Howard & Sarah D. Solomon Foundation.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is on the island known as Mannahatta, now called Manhattan in Lenapehoking, the homeland of the Lenape people.

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