Composer Joel Thompson’s “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” gains new attention with national focus on police violence

Posted on: June 18, 2020

The University of Michigan’s Men’s Glee Club performs Joel Thompson’s Seven Last Words of the Unarmed in 2015.

“Over the contemplative chords of a piano, a violin sighs,” writes A.J. Willingham on Tuesday (6/16) at CNN. “Swells of voices emerge: ‘Officers, why do you have your guns out?’ … Finally, a strangled, fading plea: ‘I can’t breathe.’… Five years ago, a young black composer named Joel Thompson sat alone and pondered these last words. The fruits of his grief became the ‘Seven Last Words of the Unarmed,’ [which] sets to music the final words of seven black men and boys: Kenneth Chamberlain, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, John Crawford and Eric Garner. Almost all of them were killed in confrontations with police…. The piece … premiered in 2015…. The University of Michigan’s legendary Men’s Glee Club performed it…. Versions were performed by the Tallahassee Symphony and the Morehouse Men’s Glee Club [as well as by Chicago Sinfonietta]. In recent weeks … institutions like Carnegie Hall have featured videos of the work, and some have … organized their own performances.… Thompson is encouraged by what he sees: People of all races and cultures … ‘using this genre of music that we love so much to speak to present-day issues,’ … he says.”