Gwyneth Walker

Suffrage Songs

for Contralto and Piano (2019)

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Suffrage Songs were composed in honor of the centennial of the passage of the 19th amendment, recognizing the Women's Right to Vote: 1920-2020. The texts range from contemporary to traditional (adaptations of traditional spirituals), all with the same message of strong women.

"won't you celebrate with me" is based on a poem by Lucille Clifton (1936-2010). The poet, a non-white (African-American) woman was born into a life with no model for achievement. Nevertheless, she found the strength to conquer adversity, one hand holding tight the other hand. Life may have tried to kill her spirit. It failed! Her resilience echoes that of the Suffragettes.

"Sister, Come by Here!" is an adaptation of the spiritual "Jesus, Won't You Come by Here?" The early women's rights advocates were few in number. But they were able to draw in others to join them. One can almost hear them calling out to new supporters: Sister, won't you raise your voice...you have a choice...come celebrate...come agitate (!), Sister won't you come by here?

The spiritual, "Sit Down, Sister!" is revisited with a Suffragette theme. These strong women were far too busy to rest. They were energetic, motivated and restless, as reflected the up-beat tempo of this song. References are made to Women's Rights pioneers Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott. They were paving the way for 20th-century activists, and for the eventual passage of the Women's Right to Vote amendment. These songs are dedicated to them, and to all those men and women who so bravely stood for women's rights.

Notes by the composer