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  • Dorothée Jourdain

A new opera project: The Little Rock Nine

Updated: Jun 8, 2021

Latitude 45 Arts is very proud to announce that we will be representing The Little Rock Nine, a new opera project by Bernadette Speach (composer) and Thulani Davis (librettist)!

The Little Rock Nine tells the story of nine students, ages 14 and 15, who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957-58. The world watched this episode of social change at the time because these young people were the first to test whether it was possible for Americans to end school segregation as ordered by the 1954 Supreme Court ruling known as Brown v. Board of Education. We know now how long a fight that has been but it would not have begun for years more had these nine teens not started and persisted through the terror of the first year, during which they were beaten, set on fire, taunted and threatened with death. Their parents lost jobs and were threatened as well. The opera allows us a peek into the internal lives of the people involved during a time when, to keep the struggle going, they never told anyone what they suffered. Neither children nor parents confided in each other. Using memoirs and interviews from years later, the libretto tells us what was not told then. Eight of the nine survive today.

This new opera is commissioned by the University of Central Arkansas and it will be premiered in 2023-24.

We are very excited to be working with these two renowned artists and can't wait to see this important new work flourish.

For more information, click here.


Bernadette Speach is a musician first, but throughout her life, the pianist and composer has found herself taking on the role of educator. Over a more than 40-year career that started as a Sister of Saint Joseph of Carondelet and evolved into arts administrator and college professor, Speach has instilled in countless others the appreciation and passion for music that drives her distinctive sound.

Thulani Davis is an interdisciplinary scholar and artist who works in history, literature, theater and film. She has been writing with composers for several decades producing, among other works, the operas X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X (1986), Amistad (1998), Xcerpts (1987) and the chamber work Song was Sweeter Even So (1987), all with Anthony Davis; the chamber work Dark Passages (1995) with Miya Masaoka; The E & O Line, an electronic opera by Ann LeBaron and the musical The Sojourner Washing Society, A Musical in Gospel & Blues (2014), with Steven Robinson. Davis has provided text for nearly a dozen pieces by Bernadette Speach from chamber works to duo performances, including Woman without Adornment (1995), Baobab Four (1994); and A Set of Five (1989). She has performed as a spoken word artist with dozens of musical artists. Davis won a 1993 Grammy for Best Album Notes, for Aretha Franklin’s The Atlantic Recordings, the first woman to win in this category, and the opera X was nominated for Best New Classical Work that same year.

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