Derrell Acon Asks Where Black Art Comes From

May 6, 2014
Derrell Acon
Photo by Andrea Cavallini
Javier Sanchez, Eric Nathan and Derrell Acon
Photo by Andrea Cavallini
Javier Sanchez
Photo by Andrea Cavallini
Eric Nathan
Photo by Andrea Cavallini
Derrell Acon and Emanuele Bruno
Photo by Andrea Cavallini
Timothy Martin
Photo by Andrea Cavallini
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In his concert-lecture entitled, “Da Dove Viene La Black Art?” Derrell Acon combines song, poetry, literary quotation and instrumentals in asking audiences to reflect with him on the origin and character of black art in America. As a Fulbright grantee in music performance and research, Acon has been based in Milan since September and will return to the United States at the end of the month where he will pursue doctoral studies. Last Wednesday’s event constituted the final Italian performance of a uniquely American repertoire hosted by The American University of Rome and put on as a collaborative effort between the American Academy in Rome, The American University of Rome, the American Embassy and the Italian Fulbright Commission. 

The evening began with welcoming words from Timothy Martin, Director of the AUR Summer Vocal Institute, and Andrew Heiskell Arts Director of the AAR Peter Benson Miller, both of whom worked closely with Acon to orchestrate this event. Timothy Martin remarked on the compelling nature of Acon’s work, which explores cultural resonances between the traditions of the Negro spiritual and Italian opera and Peter Benson Miller noted the importance of such events in bringing Rome’s American institutions and their communities together. Emanuele Bruno accompanied Derrell Acon on the piano and the performance included jazz improvisations by Spanish Academy Fellow Javier Moreno Sanchez on the bass and American Academy in Rome Fellow Eric Nathan on the trumpet.

Acon is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and this performance is the counterpart to his research on what he calls Black Motivation in the arts. Variations on the performance were given at conferences of the National Association for Ethnic Studies and the National Association of Negro Musicians in the United States as well as at the Liceo Scientifico Leonardo da Vinci in Milan, and at a conference on “In Mourning and In Rage” in Rome sponsored by Roma Tre University.  

Originally entitled “Whence Comes Black Art: the Construction and Application of ‘Black Motivation’,” Acon presents his own thoughts in conversation with historic voices of the black community, mediated by literary quotations read by the audience, and set against a musical backdrop. Using his own bass-baritone voice to bring the words of W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, and Amiri Baraka together with the music of Margaret Bonds, William Grant Still, Howard Swanson, and Moses Hogan, Acon challenges those who, like conservative black author George Samuel Schuyler, might deny the power of a unique black aesthetic that exists as part of the American experience.

Photos for this feature were taken by Andrea Cavallini. Contact: