By Lana Norris on November 2, 2020 for I CARE IF YOU LISTEN (ICIYL), an award-winning multimedia hub for living music creators.
Mamie Till altered history by insisting that the world see her murdered child. We are accustomed, and thus numb, to the African-American mothers who continue to grieve in public and call for justice. dwb (Driving While Black) presents the years of taut anxiety and legitimate fear that a parent of color endures before their child’s harassment or death, keeping a tight 45-minute focus on Black motherhood and that cherished American mythology of the open road. Four wheels and freedom is not equally available to all Americans, perhaps most poignantly in the spaces of long prairie road where this music-theater piece was born.
dwb premiered at the Kansas Lawrence Arts Center and presented two performances in Kansas City, MO the following year. One show was to a primarily white audience to whom the content might be new; one was to a primarily Black audience who already knew. For composer Susan Kander, who is white, and librettist and soprano Roberta Gumbel, who is Black, their shared experience growing up in Kansas City and experiencing disparity in arts access motivated additional effort to ensure all communities encountered the work.