April 26 Community Conversation reimagines Gullah spirituals

In the next Penn Center Community Conversation, Victor Ryan Robertson and Adrianne Duncan will perform their collaborative work, “Gullah Meditations,” followed by an audience conversation moderated by Dr. Robert Adams, Penn Center executive director. The event will take place at 6 p.m. Friday, April 26 in the Frissell Community House at Penn Center, and is free and open to the public with no reservations required. For more information about Penn Center and its programs, including its upcoming annual gala on April 27, go to penncenter.com.

While performing at the 2016 Spoleto Festival, GRAMMY®-nominated tenor Victor Ryan Robertson was given an out-of-print edition of sheet music of little-known 19th-century Gullah Geechee spirituals from the islands off the coast of his home state of South Carolina. The history, melodies and lyrics resonated with him deeply. In 2022, he invited his friend and colleague – pianist, composer and Georgia native Adrianne Duncan – to set the a cappella melodies to music that reflected their backgrounds in opera, jazz and classical music. Their hope is that this contemporary take on spirituals from the rich Gullah Geechee culture will help preserve and bring forward this profoundly moving music to a new and wider audience.

Adrianne Duncan is a pianist, singer, composer, and songwriter based in Los Angeles. She has performed and recorded in the United States and internationally with globally recognized musicians including Grammy-nominated Lado B Brazilian Project, with whom she toured Brazil on keyboards and vocals, and on The Jazz Chamber with legendary multireedist Bennie Maupin. Duncan’s latest release Gemini features her original compositions and arrangements, and her voice and piano playing can be heard in numerous films and television shows.

Victor Ryan Robertson is an American musical artist distinguished by the compass and color of his tenor voice; he performs in genres including classical, contemporary, pop, and Broadway on both opera and theatrical stages. He recently sang the roles of Elijah and Street in X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X at The Metropolitan Opera of New York, and appeared on the soundtrack for the 2023 Netflix movie Rustin.