Alliance for New Music-Theatre’s “Voices of Zion” dives into history

Alliance for New Music-Theatre — in partnership with Mt. Zion – Female Union Band Historic Memorial Park, Inc. — announces the creation of Voice of Zion, an original work and an immersive musical theatrical experience. Voice of Zion will perform onsite in Georgetown throughout May, leading up to a special final Memorial Day celebration.

The Alliance (ANMT) embarked on this project in 2020 in partnership with Mt. Zion – Female Union Band Society Historic Memorial Park, Inc., which is responsible for the preservation and commemoration of the two black cemeteries adjacent to Georgetown , and in honor of Dumbarton United Methodist Church and Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, the oldest African-American congregation in the area. The work aims to give voice to the long-ignored historic black community and key figures, many of whom are buried in this UNESCO Site of Remembrance, a designated sacred site, and to shed light on the rich history and complicated story of America that excluded the contributions and stories of African Americans. These performances are part of the Sestercentennial (250th anniversary) of Old Methodist Church, now Dumbarton UMC, and just after the 200th anniversary of Mt. Zion UMC. In addition to the “travelling party” of stories, music and “procession”, the ANMT offers the spirit of Voice of Zion as a way to come together to fellowship and discuss the work still needed in this city and beyond for equity, justice and healing.

Silhouettes of some of the historical figures that will be featured in “Voices of Zion.” Photos courtesy of Alliance for New Music-Theatre.

Voice of Zion focuses on the history of Georgetown in the 19th century and layers the stories of several identified personalities: Mary Burrell (whose monument watches over the cemetery), leader of the Female Union Band Society (FUBS), Hannah Pope and her husband Alfred Pope (known for being one of the orchestrators of “The Pearl Affair”), the shrewd Mary Beckett, “Black Georgetown Mayor” Charles Turner, teacher and abolitionist Mary Billings, and a trio of FUBS members , Gracy Duckett, Matilda Cartwright and Mother Nannie Diggs. Their stories illustrate the complexities of the history of Georgetown, a community of enslaved and freed men and women who sometimes lived, worked and worshiped together.

Voice of Zion also exposes the divisions within the ancient Methodist church and indeed throughout America – between abolitionists and segregationists, between slaveholders and those they enslaved, and between sympathizers of the Union and Confederates. The characters selected share a common goal: to see the cemeteries preserved as a monument to their life and legacy, a dignified resting place for themselves and their contemporaries. They highlight the urgency facing black cemeteries here and elsewhere, sacred sites that continue to be forgotten, lost and desecrated by erosion and development plans.

To tell this story, Voice of Zion brings together some of the region’s brightest professional artists with many community partners to help “deepen” understanding of the city’s history. Young Mt. Zion organist Ronald “Trey” Walton, already considered a “star” alumnus of the Duke Ellington School for the Arts, was chosen as the composer. Baltimore-based up-and-coming singer-songwriter Jarrod Lee came on board as a librettist. Award-winning director Thomas W. Jones II and the extraordinary Evelyn Simpson Curenton as musical director lead the team of singer-actors, among the best in the region: Roz White, Ayana Reed Ogunsunlade, Cara Schaefer, Sheri Jackson , Dr. Lloyd Mallory and Brandon Lockhart. Costume co-designers April Carter and Frankie Bethea of ​​Howard University invite students to participate in both research and construction.

Howard students Moriah Taylor Rutherford and Rebecca Celestin review costumes co-designed for “Voices of Zion” by April Carter and Frankie Bethea. Photo by Frankie Bethea.

Public performances of Voice of Zion are just one manifestation of this community-wide project, which aims to unite Washington, DC, around the cause of preserving cemeteries and celebrating the history of this neighborhood they represent. Plans are already underway to expand the project by developing educational materials and curricula designed for distribution in DC public schools, encouraging young people to engage in “artistic mining” of primary source materials, including tombstones and wills, and to use critical thinking. to unlock the story. The research engagement process offers our community the opportunity to further explore the “whole story” of our city. Guided walks and local seminars as well as a permanent installation of “stations” at the cemetery with music and monologues from the show will allow individuals to be inspired in their self-guided tours. A video documentary will be offered so that the public can join the experience remotely.

Pages of composer Ronald Walton’s score for “Voices of Zion,” as printed (left) and in draft. Photos courtesy of Alliance for New Music-Theatre.

Truly rooted in the community, the Voice of Zion The project brings together stakeholders from a wide range of social, spiritual and business sectors as partners. They include the Coalition of African American Performing Artists, Rotary Clubs of DC and Bethesda, United Presbyterian Church Georgetown University, Headstones and History, Oakhill Cemetery, Dumbarton House, and Colonial Dames of America Oakhill. ANMT also partnered with Paul Grant of Ascender Films, for the artwork and his direction of a team of professional photographers and filmmakers to design the artwork for the project and documentation of the work for future educational purposes.

Voices of Zion – The Georgetown Black Cemeteries Project will be offered in immersive performances in Georgetown on the evenings of May 6, 7, 13, 14, 20 and 21, 2022, starting at 7 p.m. A special final performance at 2 p.m. on Remembrance Day, May 30, will include the traditional black ritual of laying flowers.

Mount Zion Cemeteries – Female Union Band Society where ‘Voices of Zion’ will be played each weekend in May.

On-site representations of Voice of Zion begin at the cemeteries of Mt. Zion & Female Union Band Society, 2501 Mill Road NW, Washington, DC (entrance from Q & 27th Streets NW), with an introduction to the characters before the audience joins a procession to Dumbarton UMC , 3133 Dumbarton Street NW, for Part II of the work in which the orchestra and members of the two church choirs will join the ensemble. Tickets for the immersive performances ($35) are available in line. For group sales discounts, email [email protected] or call 202-256-7614. Wear comfortable shoes for the cemetery and be prepared to walk through Georgetown for approximately 15 minutes. In the event of inclement weather, all May performances will take place at Dumbarton UMC.

Music by Ronald Trey Walton | Libretto by Jarrod Lee
Directed by Thomas W. Jones II | Musical direction by Evelyn Simpson Curenton
Sheri Jackson as Mary Beckett
Brandon Lockhart as Alfred Pope
Dr. Lloyd Mallory Jr. as Charles Turner
Ayana Reed Ogunsunlade as Hannah Pope
Cara Schaefer as Mary Billings
Roz White as Mary Burrell


Alliance for New Music-Theatre believes that through collaboration and partnership with key arts organizations, embassies and other institutions, we can transform the capital into a world-class center for cross-fertilization in the arts. We can create opportunities for new voices and bring stories to the stage that matter – with music that breaks hearts. We share a vision that through bold and healing artistic creation and practices, we improve our community and the world.

To learn more about Mt Zion – FUBS Cemeteries, visit

SEE ALSO: Alliance for New Music-Theatre will preview the “Black Georgetown Cemeteries Project” (interview by Gregory Ford)

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