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Oh Freedom! Coming to the Stage

Courtesy of the artist
James Stegall and Chris Vallillo with the University Singers

When Macomb-based musician Chris Vallillo released his album Oh Freedom! Songs of the Civil Rights Movement in 2015, he knew he wanted to make it into a bigger production. That dream will be realized this week.

The world premiere of the stage show of Oh Freedom! is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 11, at the Hainline Theatre at WIU.  Tickets are available on the WIU Bureau of Cultural Affairs websiteor by calling 309-298-2900. 

"This was originally conceived of as a stage show.  For the last three years I've performed it as a solo piece. But now we are producing it as a fully developed theatrical production," said Vallillo, adding the event will feature a professionally designed stage set and lighting.

In addition, he will be backed by a full band and the Western Illinois University Singers directed by Dr. James Stegall.

Vallillo said music played an important role during the American Civil Rights movement of the 1950's and '60's.  For example, Vallillo said Ain't Gonna Let Nobody (Turn Me Around) was sung in Albany, Georgia in the early 1960's by demonstrators who marched in defiance of a federal injunction.  

He said the show will feature a mix of songs people are probably familiar with and songs that are new to them.

"I looked for music that would move the narrative forward, be compelling musically, but also have that important historical context that I could use to bring that movement more into focus," he said.

Vallillo said the ultimate goal is to take the show on the road with the stage set and lighting scheme.  He said he will have the choral parts transcribed so local choirs can be incorporated into the production.

Vallillo said the show could be presented at performing arts centers and other universities, and he said he would love to perform it at places such as the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Centerin Cincinnati, Ohio.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.