For today’s post it is my joy and pleasure to bring an interview with Emmy Award Winning Composer RODNEY WHITTENBERG, whose new CD WE STOOD UP, explores the experiences of civil rights leaders through interviews and songs. Sit back and enjoy this amazing project.
Nancy Rogers (NR): Lincoln Financial Foundation
First, a little background for context…Our company’s association with our namesake, Abraham Lincoln, goes back to our founding. In 1905, our founders asked permission of President Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, to use his father’s name for their new company – to reflect the ideals with which they intended to operate.
Fast-forward to 2016…We Stood Up actually grew out of a 3-year initiative – which we called “Lincoln’s Legacy” – to celebrate the 150th anniversaries of the Emancipation Proclamation (2013) and the 13th Amendment (2015). As part of the Lincoln’s Legacy initiative, we recorded oral history interviews with a wide range of people who spoke about how the ideals of freedom, opportunity and equality have evolved during their lifetimes. It was our intent from the beginning to produce an anthology of a selection of the interviews. We began with the premise that children would be most influenced – and perhaps most inspired – by other children. In many cases, the interview questions were posed by grandchildren, relatives or mentees of the interviewees – and you can sense the personal nature of some of the questions and answers. We provided some suggested questions, but the kids were also encouraged to ask about what interested them. In several cases, these recording sessions were the first time that the children had asked questions about how their grandparents or mentors had felt about the things that happened when they were young. That realization helped shape the tone and spirit of We Stood Up. The addition of songs and poems seemed like a natural way to complement the stories being shared – and another vehicle for communicating complex ideas and feelings.
The creative process was amazing on so many levels. First, there were the oral histories. Our own employees videotaped the interviews. They went to locations the interviewees had chosen, where they were surrounded by people and things that were important to them.
For Julian Bond, it was Florida during a family vacation; for Franklin McCain, it was the Woolworth lunch counter exhibit at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro; for Andrew Young, it was the Andrew & Walter Young Family YMCA in Atlanta; for Shirley Franklin, it was the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the museum she oversees as board chair; for several others it was their own homes. The locations themselves informed the creative process. And of course, the stories and reflections shared during the interviews.
Our video team members were in awe, and so honored to be playing a part in something so meaningful. They worked countless hours to get the edits just right, and to do justice to the content. Our Lincoln staff has continued to work on the project, and they remain committed advocates today.
But it became clear to us as we moved forward that we needed a dedicated professional, with experience in producing both films and records, and we were introduced to Rodney Whittenberg of Melodyvision – who has been our partner in this project for over 2 years. His creativity and guidance have been invaluable, and he has brought talent and passion in equal measure to the production of We Stood Up. Then there was the music. The music evolved the most significantly over the course of the project.
At first, we thought we would produce a spoken word album. As the album took shape, we realized that we needed a narrator to provide context and connect the interviews. Then, we began to realize that music would raise it to a different level – from an artistic standpoint, an entertainment standpoint, and an emotional standpoint.
All of the songs are original, and are tailored to the interview content, and Rodney wrote and performed in all of the songs. One of the truly gratifying things about this whole experience was the willingness of professional musicians and singers to donate their time and talent because they believed in the project. We had contributing performers who specialize in children’s music, but we also had R&B legend Sarah Dash – who couldn’t have been more supportive of the album. On the track, “Someone Thinks,” Sarah sings with her niece, and another niece runs the school where the kids’ chorus comes from. The music was written for kids, but with adults in mind, too – so that it’s enjoyable during a long car ride with the family! We also wanted it to feel new and old at the same time…to pay homage to the civil rights era, bus still sound current and relevant today.
For me this was a passion project. From the moment I first spoke with Nancy and learned about the Lincoln Legacy project I was hooked. I have been working on educational and art projects for the longest time and this made me think we could create something really special. The process started with listening to the interviews they had created, then traveling around and doing interviews. The high point for me was The John Lewis interview. He was so inspiring, his commitment and courage seams superhuman.
The songs were inspired by the interviews and the stories. Working with legendary singer Sarah Dash was a high point of the process. She really helped and connected me with Sprout performing arts school in Trenton NJ.
My favorite moment on the CD is “John Lewis on Non – Violence” in to the song “Love”.
The best part of the CD is that it’s free for teachers, schools, libraries, and it is available on iTunes. All of the proceeds go to Boys and Girls club of Phila.
Rodney Whittenberg is founder of Melodyvision where he works as a Creative Consultant by using his skills as a composer / song writer/ multi instrumentalist, producer / engineer / filmmaker and educator. He brings a fresh and unique perspective to each client and project adding value that results in creative solutions to often complex problems. Rodney has composed music for over 34 films and TV shows, and countless dance performances. Projects include: Anthony Bourdain’s show a Cooks Tour; PBS POV Documentary The Camden 28; horror cult classics Infested and Return to Sleep Away Camp. He’s received a regional Emmy for his score for the TV Documentary Mother Dot’s Philadelphia and Best Sound Design at the Terror Film Festival for Toll Taker.
Rodney’s work as a filmmaker centers around his passion for telling a story from start to finish in a creative way. Projects include: HBO Family segments 30X30: Kid Flicks; WHYY Wider Horizon educational spots; and numerous music videos and short-form documentaries. His most recent passion project is as co-producer of the feature-length documentary Caregivers: Their Passion, Their Pain, which was recently featured on Radio Times and written up in The Guardian. More info at www.melodyvision.com
We Stood UP
We Stood Up iTunes link