Arts and Culture / Magazine Feature

Flobots member guest-directs Spirituals Project’s ‘home’ concert

The Spirituals Project

The Spirituals Project stages its annual concert Nov. 20 at the Newman Center. Photo courtesy of the Spirituals Project

The Spirituals Project had a lot of issues it wanted to tackle with its annual concert this year: immigration, racism, homophobia and more. To guest artistic director Stephen Brackett — aka rapper Brer Rabbit of Denver-based hip-hop band Flobots — it all boiled down to one concept: home.

“A good way of phrasing all of this is that people are looking for home,” he says. “Taking the polarizing terminology out of it, immigration is people looking for home. Security is people trying to secure that idea of home. When we’re talking about homophobia or anti-Islamic sentiment, it’s like, ‘Well who belongs in this home?’

“Instead of trying to say exactly how people should react to these ideas,” he told the choir, “let’s try to do something that speaks directly to the common American experience of folks seeking that home.”

With that in mind, Brackett and the DU-based Spirituals Project conceived a concert titled Would You Harbor Me? Voices From the Broken Path. Taking place Nov. 20 at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts, the concert features the Spirituals Project’s 70-voice, a cappella choir performing traditional songs centered on the show’s theme.

“The choir’s singing a bunch of spirituals that are all tied to the concept of home, beginning in the first half with the idea that sometimes it seems almost impossible to find home — songs like ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,’ where you’re feeling like you just don’t have a connection to family or home,” says Spirituals Project founder and chair Arthur Jones. “We continue in the second half with songs that begin to have a little more hopeful tinge — ‘Going Home,’ ‘Sweet Heaven,’ things like that.”

Jones, a clinical professor of culture and psychology at the Women’s College, founded the Spirituals Project in 1998 to preserve and revitalize the religious folk songs created by African-American slaves.

Brackett — who first worked with the Spirituals Project at last spring’s TEDxDU event and was subsequently enlisted to help with the fall concert — has added some multimedia elements to the show as well. Young spoken-word poets will offer their takes on home in between the songs, and the evening also includes video excerpts from interviews with community leaders such as Vincent Harding, a noted civil rights activist and professor at the Iliff School of Theology, and Helen Thorpe, author of Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America. International DU students also were interviewed for the video.

“We gathered a group of folks from within our own communities who have different stories of finding home in America — of either fitting in or fitting out here,” Brackett says. “Some of them are here as exchange students; one of the students, his family lives on [an Indian] reservation. We tried to get a spectrum of stories so people could have an opportunity to see how broad [the issue] could be, but also an opportunity to see themselves in it.”

Through the Flobots nonprofit arm,, and in partnership with the Mayor’s Office for Education and Children, organizers also are reaching out to Denver school kids as part of the concert experience. On Nov. 19, underprivileged students from across Denver will come to the DU campus for dinner and a special youth performance of Would You Harbor Me? Prior to the concert they will take campus tours led by the DU students featured in the video.

“In these innovation schools we are working with, so much of what these after-school programs and in-school programs are pushing for is college readiness,” Brackett says. “But another part of college readiness is actually being able to walk around a campus and feel like, ‘I could be here.’ It’s not as if we’re trying to recruit all these kids to DU, but we think it’s incredibly valuable and important for these kids just to be on a campus and to have the campus open its arms to them. And the earlier that happens, the better.”

Would You Harbor Me? Voices From the Broken Path begins at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts, 2344 Iliff Ave. Tickets are $25–$35, available through Ticketmaster ( For more information on the concert or the Spirituals Project, visit


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