Beyond the Blues: A Prison Oratorio

Beyond the Blues: A Prison Oratorio
04/28/2015 MAPstaff
Photo by Peter Varshavsky
Photo by Peter Varshavsky

Beyond the Blues: A Prison Oratorio is a 60-minute blockbuster oratorio Marcus Shelby is composing, arranging and orchestrating for the Marcus Shelby Orchestra and 5-part vocal ensemble. This work has been commissioned by the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, and premieres on Sunday, September 27, 2015, admission-free and outdoors at Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco.

In Beyond the Blues, Shelby is working to educate people about the need to abolish this prison-industrial complex that has unfairly targeted poor women and men of color. Today, there are more black men in prison than there were in slavery at its peak. Shelby is exposing the school-to-prison pipeline, mass incarceration, and the death penalty, while exploring alternative justice, with music based on blues forms and prison songs; researching deeply, visiting prison inmates, and interviewing people in and out of ‘the system.’

For two years, Shelby has been taking his quartet to San Francisco’s juvenile hall, San Quentin and SF Women’s Prison, to share with the inmates the history of the blues, to play vintage blues records and perform some blues, to listen to them, and try to bring some hope and inspiration to those on the inside. He has made a deep impression on many.

Shelby has created an impressive repertoire of big band compositions that address significant themes in African-American history and contemporary culture. With Beyond the Blues, Marcus Shelby turns his formidable creative prowess and passion to the growing chorus of artists calling for real change in our prison system.



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