Little girls standing up against a monster or monsters like the bronze statue “Fearless Girl” now installed on Wall Street in New York
(opposite the bronze bull) is currently a popular subject. In that category is Step by Step: The Ruby Bridges Suite with words and music by Darrell Grant, an extraordinary combination of syncopated musical energy and historical documentary. The work, based largely on the memoir Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges but also news clippings of horrific events like the murders of Emmet Till (1955) and the 1963 bombing that killed four Birmingham girls in the basement of their church as well as speeches by black leaders and recitation of the racist Jim Crow laws, teaches a significant portion of the American civil rights story as it highlights the six-year-old child who in 1960 first broke public school segregation by walking into an all-white school in New Orleans accompanied by four federal marshals and her mother.
This reviewer was privileged to hear the nine movements of Step by Step on April 23, 2017, at All Souls Church, Unitarian
in Washington, DC. Except for the composer on piano, the performers were all Washington, DC based. The first-rate performance included: the accomplished jazz vocalist
Rochelle Rice, two narrators (Gregory Ford and Cheryl Gray), the All Souls Choir (under the direction of Jen Hayman who also performed some solo parts), Elijah Balbed (saxophone),
Herman Burney (bass), Devree Lewis (cello), Ele Rubenstein (drums), and Josh Walker (guitar). Together under the baton of Reverend Jason Shelton (Associate Minister for Music,
First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville) they delivered a powerful and seamless flow of text and music.
Particularly memorable was the recitation of the Jim Crow laws by a sneering narrator followed by the jerking staccato of
movement 5 “Tell You This (Jim Crow’s Song).” Here are the first two stanzas of five:
Tell you this, tell you this: we do not want you
Tell you this, tell you this: you are not welcome here.
Black and white isn’t right, can’t nobody say so.
Just the same I’ll say it plain: Get the hell outta here!
Tell you this, tell you this: we do not want change.
Keep your race in its place, or we’re gonna get personal.
Call you names, bring the chains: better watch your back.
You wanna get ahead, bang! You’re dead: Get the hell outta here!
Movement 6 “Hold My Hand” in the voice of Ruby’s mother is appropriately spiritual in musical style.
While the subject of Grant’s suite is distinctly serious, some of the comments from Ruby Bridges as she approaches the
school are comical. The child thinks all the furious protest outside the school might be Mardi Gras behavior. The text used from Ruby Bridges memoir was well selected.
Darrell Grant’s work follows in the musical legacy of Duke Ellington. This work in its original version was written to
commemorate Reed College’s centennial year and it was premiered at the college in Portland, Oregon February 11, 2012. A revised work was next
presented June 14, 2015, at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. A YouTube recording preserves the Nashville production. The production at All
Souls in Washington, DC will be aired again June 22, 2017, at the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Assembly
in New Orleans, Louisiana. Grant is working on an orchestral version for 2018.