Bibbs teaches history of black composers

Daniel Magalit

Black composers have been a part of the classical genre for close to two centuries.

Susheel Bibbs, Ph.D, has brought new light to some of the hidden history of black people through her music and films.

Sacramento State’s music department invited Bibbs to perform and discuss her work in preserving concert spirituals created by black composers and musicians in the Recital Hall, Friday Sept. 12.

Bibbs’ film, “An Unsung Muse” discusses the history of black composers and musical artists and why it is important not just to share the music but to teach it so the history is preserved.

With racial tensions running high due to recent events like the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo., Bibbs is trying to ease tension by celebrating black music with all people who are willing to listen.

“What I’ve known of history is that it spirals. We must raise ourselves with our art,” Bibbs told an audience member when the subject of recent tensions was discussed.

Bibbs also taught a master class to some of Sac State’s talented opera singers, on Wednesday Sept. 10. Each singer performed a song by black composers such as Robert Owens and Duke Ellington.

“Dr. Bibbs was so kind. She was so willing to share the culture with us,” said mezzo-soprano Linda Herring, a music major. “I was trying to get gospel-like with the song and [Bibbs] guided me to a more natural performance.”

At the age of ten, after seeing a movie about Australian operatic soprano, Dame Nellie Melba, Bibbs knew she wanted to sing opera.

“That’s when I connected my singing to opera,” said Bibbs. “And the rest is history.”

Not everyone knows what they want to do with their lives at ten-years-old like Bibbs but with all the years of experience she has gained, she is certainly knowledgeable and highly skilled.

“To become proficient, [musicians] need five years worth of work,” said Ernie Hills, Sac State Music Department Chair. “And that’s just getting to the door.”

Film making is also a passion of Bibbs. Her movies are focused not only on musical history but civil rights as well.

Her film work on Mary Ellen Pleasant, a black civil rights activist and millionaire in the 1800s, has won numerous awards at film festivals.

“If I can help somebody with a word or song, if I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living shall not be in vain,” Bibbs sang. “If I can empower anybody, I’m just happy to do it.”