Audra McDonald Set to Premiere in Duke Ellington’s ‘Black, Brown and Beige’ With Royal Philharmonic

Image: Walter McBride/Getty Images

Next month, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts will present the world premiere of Duke Ellington’s renowned piece, Black, Brown and Beige—in its entiretyas well as the composer’s equally significant work, Sacred Music. In a special, one-night event airing on Wednesday, January 26, 2022,  Award-winning actress Audra McDonald will join London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, The Jazz Orchestra at Dr. Phillips Center, musicians from Jazz at Lincoln Center and Bethune-Cookman University Concert Chorale to perform the historic piece. 

Black, Brown, and Beige, initially premiered in 1943 at Carnegie Hall, chronicles the African American experience in the United States through the medium of jazz music. The performance comes nearly 80 years after the first performance by Ellington’s band which critics disliked as it was ahead of its time; it was never performed it in its entirety again. “It means so much to bring back to life a work that was meant to inspire and chronicle the injustices of the Black experience in America,” said McDonald. “It is a true honor to share the stage with so many talented performers to pay tribute to the late, great Duke Ellington in Steinmetz Hall.” 

Ellington created Black, Brown and Beige as “a parallel to the history of the Negro in America,” with black, brown and beige representing red, white and blue. Although, the full piece has not been fully performed in several decades, each section of the full work encapsulated Ellington’s desire to celebrate and document African American history and his hope for true equity and freedom. The Ellington-Horton Black, Brown and Beige set to be premiered at Steinmetz Hall was commissioned through Ellington’s son Mercer in 1987 and arranged and orchestrated by music scholar and former Ellington bandmate Randall Keith Horton, who co-authored Duke Ellington: The Notes the World Was Not Ready to Hear.

This performance is part of a two-week Grand Opening Celebration commemorating the completion of Steinmetz Hall.

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