Black Opera Alliance Releases Statement Regarding Tulsa Opera & Daniel Roumain’s Removal from ‘Greenwood Overcomes’

By Francisco Salazar

The Black Opera Alliance has issued a statement after the Tusla Opera removed Daniel Bernard Roumain’s “They Still Want to Kill Us” aria from the upcoming “Greenwood Overcomes” concert.

In a written response, the organization said, “Mr. Roumain’s composition is reflective of a personal connection to the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 as a Black American. Tulsa is a city where Black excellence and Black lives were silenced; their communities, their stories, their existence erased by white supremacist terrorism. As white men, Ken McConnell, Tulsa Opera general director, and Mr. Picker will never have the deep understanding of the complex relationship that Black Americans have with this tragic massacre and the United States of America. They will never have to navigate the ‘two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings’ so poignantly described by W.E.B. Du Bois in his 1903 conception of ‘double-consciousness’. Instead, these men enjoy the luxury to cavalierly pick and choose which expressions of Blackness or elements of the Black experience can be pulled into service of white comfort and hegemony.”

According to Tulsa Opera’s statement, “Daniel Bernard Roumain was commissioned to compose a piece to be performed by mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves. The piece that Mr. Roumain submitted, ‘They Still Want to Kill Us,’ contained lyrics that Ms. Graves felt uneasy singing. Ms. Graves expressed her concerns to Mr. Roumain, and he was asked if he would consider altering his lyrics. He declined.”

In the Opera company’s statement, Graves said: “As a Black woman I am a huge supporter of all Black Lives, Black expression, and creativity. I don’t have trouble with strong lyrics, but I felt that they did not line up with my personal values. I could not find an honest place to express the lyrics as they were presented.”

In response to Tulsa Opera’s Statement, the Black Opera Alliance added, “The piece was written for Denyce Graves, a Black woman who has the right as an artist to decline to sing text that does not align with her principles. Rather than respecting and uplifting these two nuanced differences in Black perspective, and hiring another Black artist to sing Mr. Roumain’s piece as written, Tulsa Opera in a public statement chose to weaponize the voice of one Black artist to justify the silencing of another. The company hides behind a quotation from a Black woman instead of offering a direct response from Mr. Picker, who had been in touch with Mr. Roumain over the course of these events. Unfortunately, this insidious tactic to pit Black people against each other is one to which we have grown accustomed. We reject it. Mr. McConnell, Mr. Picker, and Tulsa Opera should have honored both Ms. Graves’ personal preference and Mr. Roumain’s personal creation by hiring an additional singer who would perform the aria as commissioned.”

The concert was co-curated by Tobias Picker and Howard Watkins. Watkins told OperaWire, “If you know Denyce Grave’s work and what she’s known for, she performed at Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s funeral and other national events. This is reflective of her personal values and something like that was never going to work for her. Daniel didn’t show any evidence of being more flexible to the person he was creating the work for and that was the reason for the dismissal.”

In a statement by Roumauin to OperaWire the composer said, “For me, the point being made is the hypocrisy of our country committing countless atrocities, time and again, in the name of country and under God. Indeed, many BIPOC humans in America have been treated in an inhumane manner, and it’s clear Picker cannot and will not ever be able to understand this and speak for us.”

The Greenwood Overcomes concert will be held on May 1 and will include Leah Hawkins, Leona Mitchell, Taylor Raven, Issachah Savage, Noah Stewart, Kevin Thompson, and Davóne Tines.

Here is the full statement by the Black Opera Alliance:



Black Opera Alliance