Les Amis de Beauford Delaney is supporting the completion of


the first full-length documentary about Beauford.

Join us in making this video tribute to Beauford a reality!



Saturday, March 28, 2020

Knoxville Links Are Keeping Beauford's Tombstone Beautiful

On 11 January 2020, I published a blog post called "Keeping Beauford's Tombstone Beautiful," which stated that this year (2020) marks the 10th anniversary of the laying of Beauford's tombstone and that the funds donated by generous individuals for its upkeep have been almost completely depleted.

I indicated that Les Amis de Beauford Delaney seeks to raise enough money to cover the maintenance fees for the next ten years by March 26, 2020 - the 41st anniversary of Beauford's death at Sainte-Anne's Hospital in Paris.

Today I am pleased to announce that the Knoxville (TN) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated has donated the entire amount of the funds required for this purpose!

Knoxville Links
Image courtesy of the Knoxville Links

The Knoxville Links have supported numerous initiatives to preserve and promote Beauford's legacy since the Resonance of Form and Vibration of Color exhibition was held in Paris in 2016. Chapter member Sylvia Peters, who is now the director of Gathering Light: The Delaney Project, attended the exhibition and returned to Knoxville determined to "bring Beauford home" by having the Knoxville Museum of Art (KMA) mount an itinerant version of the show. She told her Links sisters about me, Les Amis de Beauford Delaney, and the exhibition and persuaded them to sponsor my first visit to Knoxville in October 2016.

Monique (seated, third from left) and Knoxville Links
© Wells International Foundation

During that trip, the chapter donated $5000 to the Knoxville Museum of Art (KMA) to support the "Beauford Delaney in America" (BDIA) initiative to bring Resonance of Form to Knoxville.

Knoxville Links, Monique Y. Wells, and
KMA Executive Director David Butler with check
© Wells International Foundation

BDIA was the precursor for Gathering Light - a multifaceted community project that promotes and celebrates Beauford's life and art. The chapter is a charter member and promoter of this project and has consistently participated in efforts to make people in Knoxville and the surrounding region aware of Beauford's story and his work. The international organization of The Links, Incorporated has bestowed an award on the Knoxville chapter for this work.

As part of The Delaney Project, the Links partnered with KMA and West View Elementary School to implement a pilot educational program called "Bringing Beauford Delaney Home." This was designed to teach the children of Knoxville and Knox County about Beauford's life and work and to inspire the children to create their own art based on what they learned about him. The program unfolded between February 2 and March 31, 2017 at the school and the museum.

Student artwork at West View Elementary School
Image courtesy of Link Sylvia Peters

The highlight of the experience was the Arts Night event hosted by West View Elementary School on the evening of March 30, where the school proudly displayed the works created by its students. The artwork was subsequently displayed in the Education Gallery at KMA from June 1-30, 2017.

Student artwork at KMA Education Gallery
Image courtesy of the Knoxville Museum of Art

In late 2017-early 2018, the chapter and KMA teamed up once again to host "A Toast to the Arts," a reception during which KMA unveiled three Beauford Delaney works that it had recently acquired. This event was part of a joint effort to increase awareness of Beauford’s place in the international art world and to raise funds to bring a critical mass of his work home to Knoxville.

Invitation card for 2018 "A Toast to the Arts" event
Image courtesy of the Knoxville Links

The Links hosted a second "A Toast to the Arts" event in Beauford's honor in September 2019.

Invitation card for 2019 "A Toast to the Arts" event
Image courtesy of the Knoxville Links

Most recently, the Knoxville Links supported the staging of the world premiere of ShadowLight, the Marble City Opera production of the opera about Beauford, with a $25,000 donation.

Marble City Opera Director Kathryn Frady and
Knoxville Links Chapter President Dr. Avice Reid
Image courtesy of the Knoxville Links

At present, chapter members have only seen photos of Beauford's tombstone. Discussion has begun for the planning of an excursion to Paris later this year so they can visit the gravesite personally and celebrate the 10th anniversary of the laying of the stone.

Beauford's tombstone at Thiais Cemetery
© Discover Paris!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

In a Speculative Light - UTK Symposium on Beauford and Baldwin

"In a Speculative Light" was a powerful and enlightening symposium that explored how the relationship between Beauford and his dearest friend, James Baldwin, shaped their artistic creations and influenced 20th-century arts. Hosted by the University of Tennessee Humanities Center, and funded in part with a Collaborative Research Grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities, it brought together scholars from the domains of visual arts, musicology, and literary studies to address this previously unexplored question. Professor Amy Elias, Director of the UTK Humanities Center, organized the entire event.

The symposium opened on February 19 with "An Evening Celebrating James Baldwin and Beauford Delaney" that featured a keynote presentation by award-winning author Hilton Als.

UTK Humanities Center Director Amy Elias and
Keynote Speaker Hilton Als
Image courtesy of Professor Amy Elias

The event was held at the Knoxville Museum of Art, where the current exhibition, Through the Unusual Door, also focuses on the relationship between Beauford and Baldwin. Als' presentation was entitled "The Mentor: James Baldwin, Beauford Delaney, and the Habit of Doing."

This was followed by two full days of on-campus presentations in six research domains: arts history and Black aesthetics, music and sonic arts, ethics and social values, style and form, gender and sexuality, and biography and legacies.

NYU professor Fred Moten gave his keynote presentation at the end of the first day. His topic was "Blue(s) as Cymbal: Beauford Delaney (Elvin Jones) James Baldwin”; he explored representations of blackness through Beauford's art, Baldwin's writing, and Jones' theory of music.

Keynote speaker Fred Moten
Image courtesy of Professor Amy Elias

A total of 26 speakers presented papers during the symposium. Beauford's biographer, David Leeming, was among them. To see the list of presenters (excluding Hilton Als) and topics, click HERE.

Speakers Magdalena Zaborowska (with microphone)
and Beauford Delaney biographer, David A. Leeming
Image courtesy of Professor Amy Elias

To see the list of presenters and topics (excluding Hilton Als), click HERE.

On Friday, February 21, a private session was held during lunch at the Frieson Black Cultural Center on the UT campus. Tanisha L. Jenkins, Director of UT Multicultural Student Life, welcomed participants and attendees. Presentations were given by Sylvia Peters, Director of The Delaney Project; Monique Y. Wells, President of Les Amis de Beauford Delaney, and Reneé Kesler, President and CEO of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center.

Presenter Monique Y. Wells on screen
at luncheon conference
Image courtesy of Professor Amy Elias

A unique and inspired project associated with the symposium was a pop-up portrait studio project through which four artists created portraits of several of the symposium speakers, including Fred Moten and David Leeming. The artists were Jered Sprecher, Joshua Bienko, Rubens Ghenov, and Mary Laube, all of whom work at UTK. Participants sat with artists for 60- to 90-minute portrait sessions during the run of the symposium in a dedicated space at the UT Student Union. The sessions were open to the public.

Pop-up Portrait Center
Image courtesy of Professor Amy Elias

Also on campus, Derek Spratley, Esq., the executor of the Beauford Delaney estate, presented a showing of Beauford’s paintings at the Student Union Art Gallery. The Paris Years: Paintings by Beauford Delaney from the Artist’s Estate gave the public and UT students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to see original Delaney artwork that was made available for purchase after the close of the exhibition.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Making of ShadowLight

Juxtaposed in a kind of dialogue were Beauford Delaney's paintings on the stage backdrop, exploding silently in color and light, and the soaring notes of the operatic performance that presented a moving interpretation of Beauford's struggle with his haunting inner voices. Three different voices contending for the mind and heart of the artist. It was an intimate and expressionist performance that conveyed episodically the struggle of Delaney to create beauty and meaning through his work.

Amy Elias, Director of the University of Tennessee Humanities Center and organizer of the groundbreaking UTK symposium "In a Speculative Light" on ShadowLight


Last week, I shared news about the world premiere of ShadowLight, the opera that brings Beauford's life story to the stage through song.

In that article, I indicated that Emily Anderson spent six months researching Beauford so that she could write a libretto that vividly portrayed his life.

Emily Anderson
Image courtesy of Marble City Opera

Today, I'm pleased to share Marble City Opera director Kathryn Frady's remarkable story about how she cast the production and baritone Brandon J. Gibson's sentiments about portraying Beauford. Gibson is also the managing director of Marble City Opera.

Kathryn Frady
Image courtesy of Marble City Opera

To select the cast of ShadowLight, Kathryn Frady completely immersed herself in the music and the roles to be played during the performance:

"I held auditions in the Fall of 2019 after receiving the piano/vocal score from composer Larry Delinger. Larry had designated voice types for each of the roles, but before casting the singers I sang through each of the roles and studied the score so that I could understand what types of voices were needed.

"In opera, there are many different kinds of voices for each voice type. It is not as simple as casting any baritone, soprano, tenor, or bass. The texture of the music and which register the singer spends the majority of their time singing in, are majorly important.

"In my opinion the best way to understand how to cast a new opera is to sing through each role and study the score, so that is what I did. After studying the score I heard auditions and made selections from the singers who attended our audition days."

Frady believes that ShadowLight was well received for several reasons:

"I believe that the story and character of Beauford Delaney, a local to Knoxville, connected to the audience on a personal and emotional level that is unique to our community.

"I believe that the musical score that Larry Delinger created is beautiful, unique, and emotional.

"I believe it was also well received because of the cast's dedication to the interpretation of their characters given to them by the directors and all of the musicians' attention to detail led by maestro, Brian Holman.

Brian Holman conducting the orchestra
on opening night
Image courtesy of Dawn Kunkel

"Add to that the beautiful projections designed by Joe Payne. The evening was well planned out and executed from all aspects."

Projection of Beauford's Untitled (Jazz Club)
on opening night
Image courtesy of Dawn Kunkel

The most important thing to Frady for any production is that it connects to the audience and moves them emotionally. She believes that in art, music, and theater, the audience should have a visceral reaction to what they have seen, heard, and experienced. She says that ShadowLight "brought all three of these things together and I believe moved the audience in attendance."

Brandon J. Gibson's portrayal of Beauford was profoundly moving for the audience.

Brandon J. Gibson
Image courtesy of Marble City Opera

He first heard about Beauford about three years ago, following Marble City Opera’s first year of “Chocolate & Wine” concerts for Valentine's Day. Emily Anderson, the librettist, came to one of these performances and after hearing Gibson sing that night, she went up to him and said “I’ve found my Beauford!” She proceeded to tell Gibson about "this wild painter who also happened to be a short, round, and gregarious black man with a deep voice" that she was writing an opera about.

When Gibson looked Beauford up and realized just how local he was to the Knoxville community and how beautiful Beauford's work was, he became intrigued. As he learned about the life behind those works of art, he was even more intrigued and was "hooked from then on."

Gibson's mother died unexpectedly about a year and a half ago and he drew heavily from his experiences dealing with her passing as he portrayed Beauford's relationship with his mother, Delia.

"...it was not a stretch for me to sing about “missing her” as he [Beauford] often does in the opera. Once that vulnerability was established, the other barbs that he endured from the voices in his head were easy to react to in kind."

Beauford Endures His Voices
Image courtesy of Marble City Opera

I asked Gibson why he thought the opera was so well received. He replied:

"I think that the timing of the opera was perfect. From the exhibits, to the lectures and documentaries, etc., the city was primed to learn more about this man’s tragic story. The
combination of the material, and the visual elements really added a lot as well. The score, text, and direction all combined to tell a rich story."

The most important thing about ShadowLight for Gibson was that

"...in the end, Beauford triumphed. Despite, or perhaps in spite of his struggles, he was able to bring some beauty into the world. And to leave behind a legacy that serves as an inspiration to all of us. I feel honored to have played a small part in bringing his story to life!"

Brandon J. Gibson as Beauford Delaney
Image courtesy of Marble City Opera

Read additional reviews of ShadowLight here:

Marble City Opera’s 'Shadowlight' is another success

Opera airs anguish and artistry of Beauford Delaney

Read articles that describe Beauford's emergence into the minds and hearts of the people in Knoxville and East Tennessee here:

Artist of Color

Beaufort Delaney Acclaimed From Paris to Knoxville

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Beauford Delaney Opera a Tremendous Success!

The world premiere of ShadowLight, the opera that depicts Beauford's life in a series of flashbacks, was a tremendous success!

I posted preliminary information about the opera in last week's blog. At the time, I was not aware that on February 28, OperaWire (an online publication whose mission is "to shine a spotlight on all the amazing people nurturing and developing the art form [of opera] today") listed ShadowLight as one of the top six operas to be seen in North America that weekend:

OperaWire article by David Salazar - February 28, 2020

Opening night was sold out long before February 28.

Opening night audience
Image courtesy of Marble City Opera

Sylvia Peters, director of The Delaney Project, was the first person to send me news of the results of opening night. She said the performance was "spectacular" and that "it must be presented in Paris."

Joy Stone, a parent of one of the children from the Classes Duo Paris / Knoxville program that is rooted in Beauford's life and work, sent me the link to the review by Arts Knoxville - "the source for news and commentary on the art and music scene in Knoxville":

Marble City Opera's 'ShadowLight' - A Stunning Celebration of the Art and Life of Beauford Delaney

I then began receiving comments from others who attended the performance.

Heather Klessig-Zeiger, another Classes Duo parent, had the following to say:

"The combination of art projected on the wall, the orchestra music, the facial expressions and the words spoken were very powerful.

Beauford and his inner voices
Image courtesy of Marble City Opera

"I paid attention to the angst, confusion, fear in the speaker’s face. It was tear jerking when the three voices were speaking all at once which resulted in Beauford crying. The struggle to stay focused on his art to quiet the voices but wanting to hear his mother’s voice. Calling out to his mom and wanting her when he was in Paris, watching him in the insane asylum and fighting against people who had to restrain him was hard to swallow.

An anguished Beauford
Image courtesy of Marble City Opera

"Because of ... the 25 years I’ve worked with children and adults with mental illness, it was powerful and insightful. I have seen first hand the way a person acts and responds to this trauma and not wanting to live to get rid of the pain. All of this was so beautifully conveyed with the music, his art and James Baldwin’s words.

"ShadowLight is not the presence of darkness in light but the presence of a light (Beauford) in the darkness. I believe that was the meaning of it all."

L to R: Librettist Emily Anderson; cast members Brandon J. Gibson, Regan Bisch, Vincent Davis, and Breyon Ewing;
director Kathryn Frady; orchestra conductor Brian Holman, composer Larry Delinger, cast member Joshua Allen
Image courtesy of Marble City Opera

Librettist Emily Anderson shared the following about her involvement in ShadowLight:

"I first learned about Beauford Delaney twenty-five years ago, when Knoxville Museum of Art curator Stephen Wicks started researching him. Sylvia Peters, director of The Delaney Project, invited me to write the libretto. I spent six months researching Delaney’s life, mostly in newspaper and magazine clippings and museum catalogues, plus the David Leeming biography. Except for the Leeming biography, there is not much about him in any archive."

I asked Anderson why she believes the opera was so well received. She replied that the audience seemed to understand who Beauford was, the obstacles he overcame, and the contributions he made to 20th-century art. The most important thing about the performance for her was that "Audience members took Beauford Delaney home with them."

Marble House Opera director Kathryn Frady first learned of Beauford when Anderson approached her about producing an opera about Beauford. She told me that one of her passions is to tell stories through opera that are relatable and accessible to a new audience. So the idea of producing an opera about an artist from Knoxville made logical and emotional sense to her.

Frady describes ShadowLight as "a story of someone that our audiences themselves would be excited about seeing, since he grew up where they live, and that had the potential to bring a new non-traditional opera audience to the performance."

Next week: I'll share information about how director Kathryn Frady selected the cast for ShadowLight.