The Jazzcat

Willard White At UCLA Live May 13th!

by on Apr.20, 2004, under News

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Willard White, Bass-Baritone Opera Star Performs at UCLA Live in

“An Evening with Willard White—a Tribute to Paul Robeson,” May 13


“Never any need to wait for the spirituals to find the spirit in a Willard White recital.”– The Times (<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />London)


LOS ANGELES—UCLA Live presents Willard White, the renowned Jamaican-born bass-baritone in a moving concert tribute to one of America’s most powerful singers, the legendary Paul Robeson. “An Evening with Willard White—a Tribute to Paul Robeson” features many of the songs Robeson made famous, from spirituals to folk songs to classic and early jazz. Neal Thornton accompanies White on piano and with narration. This concert takes place at 8 p.m., Thursday, May 13 at Royce Hall. For tickets call 310-825-2101 or visit


            Since his debut with the New York Opera, Willard White has gained widespread acclaim as both a singer and actor, earning rave reviews in a career that has covered more than 50 roles, from Othello with the Royal Shakespeare Company to Porgy in Trevor Nunn’s televised version of “Porgy and Bess.” White’s career has also included recitals, for which he is in much demand. In “An Evening with Willard White—a Tribute to Paul Robeson,” White pays homage to the talent of Robeson, the son of an ex-slave whose work as a campaigner for civil rights became an integral part of his choice of repertoire as a performer.


            White’s career mirrors that of Robeson’s. Both are or were the outstanding black basses of their times, and have performed both serious and popular musical repertoire. The UCLA Live program includes Negro spirituals, Russian and British folk songs, classic early jazz songs by Hoagy Carmichael and Duke Ellington as well as standards by George Gershwin and Jerome Kern. White brings an honest intensity to the deeply moving spiritual songs. White and pianist/arranger Neal Thornton provide narrations on Robeson’s life.


The London Times states, “[White] has commanding presence and a charismatic way of delivering his songs in which just one gesture of the hand carries infinite

meaning … and set[s] an example to all singers by making every word crisply audible.”



Born in Princeton, New Jersey on April 9, 1898, Paul Robeson became a world-renowned scholar, actor, singer, athlete and activist. He worked tirelessly on raising awareness of human rights issues and believed in the universality of music. He knew that by performing Negro spirituals and other cultures’ folk songs, he could promote intercultural understanding. It has been said that folksongs express the history, culture and spirit of a people. 


            Robeson’s attention to human rights and outspoken views on racism led to controversy when he spoke highly of socialism following a trip to the Soviet Union in 1934. Soon Robeson was boycotted from appearing in American concert halls. His passport was revoked in 1950 when he denounced the war in Korea. When he died in 1976, more than 5,000 people attended his funeral in Harlem and listened to “Ol’ Man River.” Robeson remains a popular public figure and is remembered for his courageous stance against oppression and inequality.


Willard White was born in Kingston, Jamaica where he began his musical training at the Jamaican School of Music and continued at the Juilliard School in New York. Since his debut with the New York City Opera he has sung in the opera houses of San Francisco, London – both the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, and English National Opera, Munich, Amsterdam, Geneva, Hamburg, Madrid, Paris, Los Angeles, Brussels and at the Glyndebourne, Aix en Provence and Salzburg Festivals.


Last season White’s appearances included the title-role in Messiaen’s “St. François d’Assise” in San Francisco; Ferrando in “Il Trovatore” at the Metropolitan Opera, New York; Prince Ivan Khovansky in “Khovanshchina” for the English National Opera and at La Monnaie, Brussels; “El Niño” in Los Angeles, New York and London; Klingsor in “Parsifal” at the Paris Opera, Bastille; and “Bluebeard’s Castle” with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra at the Konzerthaus, Berlin.


White’s large repertoire includes the bass-baritone roles in operas by Monteverdi, Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini, Wagner, Debussy, Shostakovich, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev and Gershwin. His regular concert appearances include working with the London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic, Concertgebouw Orchestra, La Scala Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Cleveland Orchestra. His concert program “An Evening with Willard White – a Tribute to Paul Robeson,” has been shown on BBC television and has recently been issued on CD. 


Neal Thornton studied Physics at Balliol College, Oxford before coming to London to study at the Guildhall School of Music. An interest in jazz music became a full time commitment and Thornton now plays with many top musicians in London's jazz venues as well as teaching. In his many cross style-collaborations he has appeared in concert with Paul McCartney, toured with Indian/jazz singer Najma, and performed with Griff Rhys Jones and Janie Dee. As an arranger and composer Thornton has produced albums with Sally Burgess and stage shows including “Something Wonderful,” a Richard Rodgers centenary tribute with orchestra and chorus, for Opera North and ENO in 2002 and “Harold Arlen – Who?” for the Barbican in 2003.Thornton also performs in the concert program “An Evening with Willard White—a Tribute to Paul Robeson.”


            Tickets to Willard White are available for $50, $38 and $28 at the UCLA Central Ticket Office at the southwest corner of the James West Alumni Center, online at www.UCLALive.organd at all Ticketmaster outlets. For more information or to charge by

phone, call 310-825-2101. UCLA students may purchase tickets in advance for $15. Student rush tickets at the same price are available to all students with a valid i.d. one hour prior to show time.


Supported by the Ginny Mancini Endowment for Vocal Performance at UCLA.


Press images are available at:



An internationally acclaimed producer and presenter of music, dance, theater and spoken word, UCLA Live brings hundreds of outstanding and provocative artists to Los Angeles each year. Committed to supporting the development of new work, UCLA Live has presented both major and emerging artists including Pina Bausch, Kronos Quartet, Philip Glass, Bill T. Jones and Robert Wilson. Lectures, residencies, and extensive outreach programs expand the impact of its unparalleled performances that include a lively mix of distinguished masters and innovators from around the world.


Editors please note:

Willard White, bass-baritone

Neal Thornton, piano



Witness                                                          Spiritual                                                         

Deep River                                                    Spiritual                                 

On my journey now                                      Spiritual                                 

All God’s children got a robe                                  Spiritual                                 

Lazy bones                                                    Hoagy Carmichael               

Water boy                                                      Spiritual                                 

Ezekiel saw the wheel                                  Spiritual                                 

Oh! No John!                                                 English folk song                  

Eriskay love lilt                                             Scottish folk song                             

Song of the Volga Boatmen                                   Russian folk song                 

Down by the Riverside                                 Spiritual                                             




Every time I feel the spirit                            Spiritual                                 

Trees                                                              Oscar Rasbach                    

Got the South in my soul                             Victor Young             

Joe Hill                                                           Earl Robinson           

I got plenty o’ nothing                                   George Gershwin                             

The four insurgent generals                                   Spanish civil war song         

All through the night                                     Welsh hymn                          

Mood Indigo                                                  Duke Ellington                      

Scandalise my name                                              Spiritual                                 

Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel                     Spiritual                                 

Ol’ Man River                                                            Jerome Kern             

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