Burlington County Footlighters concluded Black History Month with a fitting encomium. On February 26th, they made a prerecorded performance of James Weldon Johnson’s God’s Trombones available on their website. Darryl S. Thompson, Jr. directed.
The book by James Weldon Johnson inspired this theatrical rendition. As its subtitle indicated, God’s Trombones featured Seven Negro Sermons in Verse. Through compelling poetry, actors presented dramatic retellings of biblical stories. Gospel music performances bracketed several of them.
The audience received context for the overall presentation. Slides included in the video summarized “Black Church” history in the United States.
The end of the slave trade in 1810 enabled religious practices exclusive to the African American community to grow. The First Great Awakening brought African slaves and free blacks to Christianity. The Second Great Awakening advanced the belief that all people are God’s children leading to the abolitionist movement. These developments facilitated the advent of African American leaders, preachers and churches.
The preachers played a crucial role in the African American community. Their efforts allowed slaves brought to the US to receive their “first sense of unity and solidarity.”
God’s Trombones provided an excellent segue into Women’s History Month. Most early black congregation members were female. Many received “the calling” to become preachers themselves. They included Minister Jarena Lee, Elder Julia Foote and Reverend Florence Spearing Randolph.
The production team recorded God’s Trombones at The Lighthouse of Deliverance Gospel Church. The site contained the perfect ambiance for a show with religious themes. A crown of thorns hung from a large cross on the rear wall. Flowers adorned the altar. The latter’s length allowed the actors to move about it like a stage.
The cast stood in a circle as they opened with a solemn invocation of “Listen Lord – A Prayer.” Voice overs from each performer read a section of the poem. Bryan Smith’s keyboard accompaniment augmented the ritual.
Danielle Harley-Scott then performed “The Creation.” Using immense enthusiasm, she described God’s conception of the universe through the creation of Adam. Her use of hand gestures illustrated the story just as well as she told it.
Alfred Lance, Jr. continued with the tale of sin’s entry into the world and its consequences. Mr. Lance, Jr. enhanced “Noah Built the Ark.” through his expression of the script’s humorous phrases. He described Satan telling Eve, “You’re sure good looking” before gifting her with a looking glass. People mocked Noah’s prophesying a great flood by accusing him of having “water on the brain.”
In addition to directing, Darryl S. Thompson, Jr. performed two of the play’s poems. He first delivered a powerful retelling of the exodus from Egypt. During “Let My People Go,” he emphatically portrayed Moses insisting that Pharaoh free the Israelites. Mr. Thompson, Jr. hooked this reviewer to such a degree that he listened with the intentness of someone hearing the story for the first time.
Mr. Thompson, Jr. added his own brand of humor to the narrative. After explaining that Pharaoh claimed he “didn’t know the God of Israel,” Mr. Thompson, Jr. let out a sarcastic laugh. It reflected God’s contempt for the Egyptian monarch.
Next, Siiyara Yasmine delivered a gripping story about a woman’s final moments. Ms. Yasmine included tenderness in her telling of “Go Down Death.” Her recitation combined the sadness of leaving this world with the joy of eternal life awaiting with Jesus.
Beau Emerson showed that he would be just as adept at delivering a Sunday sermon as at acting. His stage presence in “The Prodigal Son” reflected that of a seasoned public speaker. He drew out one syllable words such as slide, bright and man. His expression of the line “slip and slide until you bang up against hell’s iron gate” along with his description of “hanging out in gambling dens throwing dice with the devil for his soul” contained the vocal prowess of an experienced pastor.
April Johnson presented a moving depiction of “The Crucifixion.” Ms. Johnson became lachrymose when personalizing the suffering of “my Jesus.” The image of her spreading of her arms with the cross added to the scene’s impact. Ms. Johnson’s delivery of the line, “It causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble” captured the significance of the crucifixion to her character.
Darryl S. Johnson, Jr. returned to the screen for a performance of “Judgement Day.” He used excellent vocal inflections to contrast the rewards of a righteous life with the “woe” awaiting sinners.
God’s Trombones included several gospel songs. Danielle Harley-Scott, April Johnson, Siiyara Yasmine, and Alfred Lance, Jr performed soulful renditions of these numbers. At the show’s conclusion, Darryl S. Thompson, Jr. led the entire ensemble in a group performance.
Bryan Smith played keyboards. In addition to accompanying the vocalists, he provided musical background for several of the verse readings.
Jeff Rife Videography worked on the video and editing.
God’s Trombones presented engaging retellings of classic Bible stories. The variety of interpretations entertained through stellar renditions and connecting with the audience on an emotional level. The gospel music added even more depth to the latter. Black History Month received a wonderful commemoration from Burlington County Footlighters.