Toshi Reagon: Librettist, Composer, Musical Director
Toshi Reagon ( (Librettist, Composer, Music Director) is a talented and versatile singer, composer, musician, curator and producer with a profound ear for sonic Americana–from folk to funk, from blues to rock. While her expansive career has landed her at Carnegie Hall, the Paris Opera House, and Madison Square Garden, you can just as easily find Toshi turning out a music festival, intimate venue or local club. Toshi knows the power of song to focus, unite and mobilize people. If you’ve been lucky enough to be in Toshi’s presence, you know you can’t walk away from her without feeling better about yourself as a human being. She aims for nothing less.
Toshi was the recipient of a NYFA award for Music Composition, co-composed music for two Peabody award-winning films, and received The Black Lily Music and Film Festival Award for Outstanding Performance. She is a National Women’s History Month Honoree, and is the 2010 recipient of OutMusic’s Heritage Award. She was named a 2015 Art of Change Fellow by the Ford Foundation. Her many collaborators include Lizz Wright, Carl Hancock Rux, Allison Miller, Ani DiFranco, her band BIGLovely, and her mother Bernice Johnson Reagon.
Toshi’s current touring projects include: The 2015 Bessie Award-winning The Blues Project, a collaboration by Dorrance Dance and Toshi Reagon & BIGLovely; Meshell Ndegeocello’s Can I Get A Witness: The Gospel of James Baldwin; Celebrate The Great Women of Blues and Jazz, a sixteen-piece all women’s ensemble of some of New York’s best instrumentalists and vocalists; Zinnias — The Life of Clementine Hunter, an opera directed by Robert Wilson, with libretto and music by Bernice Johnson Reagon & Toshi Reagon and book by Jacqueline Woodson; and Black Rock Coalition’s Deep Roots of Rock n Roll.
Toshi is currently developing an Opera based on Octavia E. Butler’s novel, Parable of the Sower. This project received a 2016 NEFA National Theater Project Creation & Touring Grant. She has released several recordings and produced music for many artist including Sweet Honey In The Rock, Lizz Wright, Climbing PoeTree and Carl Hancock Rux.
In 2011, Toshi created Word* Rock* & Sword: A Festival Celebration of Women’s Lives. The festival brings together musicians, filmmakers, health practitioners, dancers, activists, writers, community organizations and everyday brilliant people. It takes place every year in September.
Bernice Johnson Reagon: Librettist, Composer
Bernice Johnson Reagon (Librettist, Composer) is a scholar, singer/songleader, activist. For over half a century she has been a profound contributor to African American and American culture. Born in Southwest Georgia, her singing style and traditional repertoire is grounded in her experiences in church, school, and political activism. As a composer, she has created a narrative of her social and political activism through her songs and larger compositions. She performed as a member of the SNCC Freedom Singers during the sixties; she founded an all women a cappella ensemble, The Harambee Singers, during the Black Cultural Movement; she founded and led the internationally acclaimed “Sweet Honey In The Rock” for thirty years until retirement. Paralleling her work in music, Reagon is one of the leading authorities in African American Cultural History. She is a recipient of the Heinz Award for Arts and Humanities, a MacArthur Fellowship, and the Presidential Medal and Charles E. Frankel Prize for Contributions to the Public Understanding of Humanities.
Octavia Estelle Butler (Author, June 22, 1947 – February 24, 2006)
Often referred to as the “grand dame of science fiction,” Octavia Butler was born in Pasadena, California. She received an Associate of Arts degree in 1968 from Pasadena Community College, and also attended California State University in Los Angeles and the University of California, Los Angeles. During 1969 and 1970, she studied at the Screenwriter’s Guild Open Door Program and the Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop, where she took a class with science fiction master Harlan Ellison (who later became her mentor), which led to Butler selling her first science fiction stories.
Butler’s first story, Crossover, was published in the 1971 Clarion anthology. Patternmaster, her first novel and the first title of her five-volume Patternist series, was published in 1976, followed by Mind of My Mind in 1977. Others in the series include Survivor (1978), Wild Seed (1980), which won the James Tiptree Award, and Clay’s Ark (1984).
With the publication of Kindred in 1979, Butler was able to support herself writing full time. She won the Hugo Award in 1984 for her short story, “Speech Sounds,” and in 1985, Butler’s novelette Bloodchild won a Hugo Award, a Nebula Award, the Locus Award, and an award for best novelette from Science Fiction Chronicle.
Other books by Octavia E. Butler include the Xenogenesis trilogy: Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988), and Imago (1989), and a short story collection, Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995). Parable of the Sower (1993), the first of her Earthseed series, was a finalist for the Nebula Award as well as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. The book’s sequel, Parable of the Talents (1998), won a Nebula Award.
In 1995 Butler was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Foundation fellowship. A full listing of her work can be found at octaviabutler.org.