NEW YORK SINGS explores rich musical heritage. Capital Rep., Mar 24, Free!

News Subject: 

Capital Repertory Theatre and the

University at Albany (SUNY) Department of History,  

Researching New York Conference, and Documentary Studies Program,

 with support from the New York Council for the Humanities


New YorkSings

an afternoon exploration of New York’s rich musical heritage,

featuring renowned musicologist Rena Kosersky

and famed Albany-area folklorist/performer George Ward.

Albany, NY – March 16, 2012 – Capital Repertory Theatre is pleased to announce support from the New York Council for the Humanities for its upcoming event, New York Sings!, a lively, 90-minute discussion and performance with renowned musicologist Rena Kosersky and famed folklorist/musician George Ward. New York Sings!, which is free to all (no tickets required), will be held on Saturday, March 24, from 1-2:30 pm at Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 North Pearl Street in Albany.  In discussion and song, the program explores New York’s rich musical traditions, including 19th and early 20th century folksongs gathered in the Schoharie region, such as “A Dutch Lullaby” and “Billy Boy,” that reflect the roots of New York’s earliest settlers. 

“Events such New YorkSings! are at the heart of Capital Repertory Theatre’s mission,” notes Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill. “We look at the community as a source of inspiration, and seek to celebrate the upstate region in particular as a cultural destination point, both past and present. The relevance of this exceptional offering in concert with the upcoming Black Pearl Sings! at Capital Rep cannot be overstated.”

In addition to support from the New York Council for the Humanities, the March 24 event is co-sponsored by the University at Albany Department of History and Researching New York, a conference on New York State history sponsored by the department each November; and the UAlbany Documentary Studies Program.  

New YorkSings! is scheduled to coincide with Capital Repertory Theatre’s regional premiere of Black Pearl Sings!, which runs from March 13 through April 7. A play with music by Frank Higgins, Black Pearl Sings! brings audiences back to the 1930s and an encounter in a Texas prison between Alberta "Pearl" Johnson, an African-American woman convicted of murder (played by Jannie Jones, who delighted audiences in last year’s Crowns), and Susannah Mullally, a white academic collecting traditional songs for the U.S. Library of Congress (played by Jessica Wortham, known locally for her memorable work in Boston Marriage).  When Susannah discovers that Pearl is a living storehouse of songs passed down from her African ancestors, Pearl must decide whether or not to trust her—not only with her songs, but also her only chance at freedom. 

Higgins has said that his work was inspired by the true story of song collector John Lomax, a white academic who met African-American musician Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly, in a Louisiana prison in 1933.  The March 24 discussion invites the general public to look more deeply into the legacy of collectors like Lomax. “It seemed like a terrific opportunity to bring New York scholars, performers, and the public together to discuss and celebrate the music of New York in the context of this play,” said Sheila Curran Bernard, who organized the event with Mancinelli-Cahill and is a faculty member at the University at Albany.

Bernard contacted Rena Kosersky, an expert in American folk music and music collecting, including the work of John Lomax.  “By focusing on music in certain regions of the country, Appalachia and the Deep South, as Lomax did,” Kosersky explains, “collectors often privileged that music as ‘American’—a designation that overlooks rich traditions elsewhere.”  For the 90-minute presentation on March 24, Kosersky will team up with famed regional performer George Ward to introduce audiences to the rich song and folklore legacy of New York State.  Of particular interest is Kosersky’s research into the 19th and early 20th century folk and popular songs of Schoharie County as collected by Ida Finkell (whose “songster” or ballad book was kept from 1879-83) and Emelyn Elizabeth Gardner (Folklore from The Schohairie Hills New York, 1937). 

“In New York, as in Texas, Louisiana, and elsewhere, music played a key role in establishing and preserving communities, and it can serve as a lens through which to understand the historical past, both before and after the advent of recording technology,” adds Kosersky.  “The music of New York is an important part of the musical traditions that illustrate the United States’ dynamic and diverse population.” 

Kosersky is planning to discuss a number of songs that George Ward will perform.  While the program is not yet finalized, selections may include “Uncle Sam’s Farm,” a popular 19th century protest song; “Ding Darling,” a tune also known as “It Was on One Morning in 1855”; “When the Stars Begin to Fall,” a spiritual;and “Pretty Polly,” a ballad with English, Irish, and American roots.

Support for New YorkSings! was provided by the New York Council for the Humanities, whose mission is “to help all New Yorkers become thoughtful participants in our communities by promoting critical inquiry, cultural understanding, and civic engagement.”  Like all projects supported by the Council, New YorkSings! is intended for and open to a general public audience.  Tickets are not required, and the event is free of charge.

Please note:  A matinee performance of Black Pearl Sings! will follow the discussion, beginning at 3:00 pm on Saturday, March 24, 2012.  Tickets are required for Black Pearl Sings!  They can be purchased online at www., in person at the Tickets by Proctors Box Office, by phone at the Tickets by Proctors phone line, or in person two hours prior to the performance at the Capital Repertory Theatre Box Office.

For more information, contact:

Sheila Curran Bernard, Assistant Professor, Department of History

University at Albany, SUNY,

Thom O’Connor, Marketing Communications for Proctors and Capital Rep

Phone:  518-382-3884 x 166,






RENA KOSERSKYis a renowned musicologist whose research and music supervisor credits include the PBS programs The Great Depression, Woody Guthrie and Eyes on the Prize. A resident of Schoharie County and NYC, Kosersky has expertise in the Lomax archive and in the 19th and early 20th century songs of Schoharie County, including the collections and writings of Ida Finkel, Emelyn E. Gardner, and others.

GEORGE WARD, a folklorist by academic training, has spent more than 30 years collecting and performing traditional songs and drawing on the rural singing tradition of the American Northeast. A frequent performer at concerts, festivals, and educational series, his CDs include O! That Low Bridge!: Songs of the Erie Canal and All Our Brave Tars: Songs of the Age of the Fighting Sail.   See

SHEILA CURRAN BERNARD holds a joint appointment in history and documentary studies at the University at Albany.  She is an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker and the author, with Kenn Rabin, of Archival Storytelling (Focal Press). Her most recent film, Slavery by Another Name, premiered on PBS on February 13, 2012.  See

MAGGIE MANCINELLI-CAHILL, Producing Artistic Director of Capital Repertory Theatre, has brought new and documentary-based works by diverse playwrights to the stage at Capital Rep and elsewhere. Productions include Having Our Say, Crumbs from the Table of Joy, 33 Variations, It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues, and for young people, Friend of a Friend and Petticoats of Steel.

At a glance:

New YorkSings:

An exploration of New York State’s musical heritage with

musicologist Rena Kosersky and folklorist/musician George Ward

When:                          Saturday, March 24, 2012, 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm

Where:                         Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 North Pearl Street, Albany, New York

Tickets:                        No tickets necessary; the event is free and open to the public

Info:                             518-346-6204,

Primary sponsor:           New York Council for the Humanities

NOTE:  A separate, 3:00 pm performance of Black Pearl Sings! follows the discussion.  Tickets for Black Pearl Sings! can be purchased either:

1)      At Tickets by Proctors Box Office (432 State Street, Schenectady, NY)

Mon-Fri 10-6; Sat-Sun 10-5

2)      By Tickets by Proctors phone:  518-445-SHOW

Mon-Fri 10-6; Sat-Sun 10-5

3)      Online at

4)      At Capital Rep Box Office, 111 North Pearl Street, Albany, NY two hours prior to the show.

Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in New York Sings!

do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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