Composer Hannibal Lokumbe says being in the presence of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks has affected everything he does. On Sunday the Twin Cities choral ensemble VocalEssence performs Lokumbe's oratorio "Dear Mrs. Parks" as the centerpiece of its annual "Witness" concert.
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra premiered the work two years ago. It honors Parks' courage in refusing to move to the back of a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955.
Lokumbe established his career as a jazz trumpeter in New York City, playing with Gil Evans, Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes and other legends. His opera, "African Portraits," received its premiere at Carnegie Hall in 1990. "Evers," an oratorio honoring civil rights leader Medgar Evers, was first performed by the New Jersey Symphony in 2002.
In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio host John Birge, Lokumbe discusses growing up in Texas at the dawn of the civil rights movement and the life-changing experience of meeting Rosa Parks.