Press Release

Rothko Chapel Presents Songs For Justice:  A Series Exploring Music In Social Justice Movements

January 06, 2022

First event on January 15 in observance of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday with a performance and discussion about music central to the Civil Rights Movement


Houston, TX – On January 15, the Rothko Chapel will present the first in a series called Songs for Justice: Music in Social Justice Movements. Coinciding with the Chapel’s annual observance of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, the series opens with a performance of and discussion about music central to the US Civil Rights Movement. Songs for Justice is a five-part series that explores the role music plays to further social justice movements by addressing the inequities and injustices of the day. The project includes five performances and related discussions, presented in collaboration with community grassroots organizations focused on social justice advocacy, including the world premiere of a new work of music by composer and musician Tyshawn Sorey commissioned specifically for performance in the Chapel.


The January 15 event features the Community Music Center of Houston Scott Joplin Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Anne Lundy and includes a selection of music central to Dr. King’s transformative leadership and Black Americans’ historic and contemporary protests for equity. Dr. Shana L. Redmond, scholar of music, race and politics, and professor at Columbia University, will discuss the broader history surrounding the role of music in activism in the U.S., the importance of music in Rev. King’s life, and the strategic use of music within the Civil Rights Movement.


This program is a continuation of one of the Chapel’s most important community engagement activities. The Rothko Chapel started the annual MLK Birthday Celebration in 1979 to connect the contemporary implications of Dr. King’s legacy to the ongoing struggle for civil and human rights, captured by artist Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk. This sculpture, located on the plaza adjacent to the Chapel, is dedicated to Dr. King.


Songs for Justice is a part of a multi-year effort to further the Rothko Chapel’s programming and community engagement while honoring the Chapel’s history both as a landmark of modern sacred art and as a celebrated site for transformative and inspirational experiences. After a year of focusing on the state of civil and human rights in the United States, through Rothko Chapel’s 2021 Beyond the Rhetoric Civil Rights and Shared Responsibility Symposium, Songs for Justice explores the significant role of music and spoken word in popular culture to address civil rights and social justice issues. Each of the programs will invite a performing artist to Rothko Chapel to present works that utilize sound and performance in furthering equity, inclusion, self-expression and constructive social change.


Details on registering for the January 15 event are here:


MLK Birthday Event, Presented in partnership with Community Music Center of Houston

  • January 15th at 3PM CT – REGISTER HERE
  • Livestream (free with suggested $5-20 contribution)
  • Featuring Community Music Center of Houston, with Dr. Anne Lundy, Conductor, and Dr. Shana L. Redmond, scholar of music, race, and politics.


Details on other upcoming events in the series are here:


Tyshawn Sorey: Rothko Chapel 50th Anniversary Commission, Monochromatic Light (Afterlife)

Commission with DACAMERA

  • February 19th at 7PM CT, Concert followed by talkback with Tyshawn Sorey and reception ($75 ticket) – REGISTER HERE
  • February 20th at 3PM CT, Concert only ($25 ticket) – REGISTER HERE
  • Presented in-person only; COVID-19 protocols listed on registration page

Tyshawn Sorey, composer and conductor
Houston Chamber Choir
Kim Kashkashian, viola
Steven Schick, percussion
Sarah Rothenberg, piano and celesta

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of Rothko Chapel, DACAMERA and Rothko Chapel have commissioned boundary-breaking composer Tyshawn Sorey to create a new work inspired by the Chapel and by Morton Feldman’s 20th-century masterpiece, Rothko Chapel, composed for the opening celebration. Tyshawn Sorey epitomizes DACAMERA’s commitment to work that explodes traditional distinctions between genres. Using the same instrumentation as Feldman, Tyshawn Sorey brings to this new work his impressive background in jazz and creative music. Sorey’s new work premieres during the 50th anniversary year of the first performance of the Feldman work at the dedication of the Chapel in 1972.

Songs for Murdered Sisters with Houston Grand Opera

  • March 8th at 7PM CT – REGISTER HERE
  • Presented in-person only, performance to be followed by discussion with the composer and vocalist
  • Suggested donation price TBD


In conjunction with International Women’s Day and in partnership with Houston Grand Opera, the Rothko Chapel will present “Songs for Murdered Sisters,” a world premiere song cycle with music by composer and pianist Jake Heggie who sets original poems by celebrated Canadian novelist and poet Margaret Atwood. Commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, the song cycle takes poems by Atwood, which explore themes of violence against women. The project is conceived by and performed by baritone Joshua Hopkins with the composer on piano accompaniment.


Summer Sounds on the Plaza

There will be two concerts presented in July 2022. Details to be determined.



About Rothko Chapel

The Rothko Chapel is a contemplative space that successfully interconnects art, spirituality and compassionate action through a broad array of public programs and community initiatives. It is open to the public every day of the year at no charge. Founded by Houston philanthropists Dominique and John de Menil, the Chapel was dedicated in 1971 as an interfaith, nonsectarian sanctuary, and invites visitors from around the world to experience the power and sanctity of Mark Rothko’s monumental paintings. The Rothko Chapel is an independent non-profit organization whose mission is to create opportunities for spiritual growth and dialogue that illuminate our shared humanity and inspire action leading to a world in which all are treated with dignity and respect.


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