Black is Beautiful Album Release


by Eugene Concert Choir & Orchestra
and EXIGENCE: A Sphinx Vocal Ensemble

 Available for streaming and MP3 purchase on all major platforms starting February 9, 2024!

CDs will be available for purchase at

The Eugene Concert Choir is thrilled to announce the upcoming release of BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL by the Eugene Concert Choir & Orchestra and EXIGENCE: A Sphinx Vocal Ensemble on February 9, 2024. BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL is a powerful ode of hope in the face of injustice, featuring compositions by Black artists that illuminate the rich tapestry of the Black experience through moving choral masterworks. This Navona Records release will be available for streaming and MP3 purchase on all major music platforms starting February 9, 2024. CDs will be available for purchase at

Notably, BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL features the first publicly available audio recording of Scenes from the Life of a Martyr, a 16-part oratorio on the life of Martin Luther King Jr. by Undine Smith Moore, a Black female composer born in Virginia in 1904. Scenes from the Life of a Martyr, was performed to acclaim at Carnegie Hall in 1982 and nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, yet, it has remained largely unknown as is historically typical of classical works by Black female composers. 

Thanks to the dedication of Dr. Diane Retallack, Artistic Director and Conductor of the Eugene Concert Choir and Dr. Eugene Rogers, Artistic Director and Conductor of EXIGENCE, Scenes From the Life of a Martyr is experiencing a revival and will finally be available for listeners to enjoy on their favorite streaming platforms.

Listen to an album sample here: 

The album begins with the world premiere of The Hymn! by Stacey V. Gibbs, followed by the contemporary masterwork, Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, composed by EXIGENCE member Joel Thompson. Thompson's composition is a personal response to the tragic killings of unarmed Black men in America. This masterwork in seven movements uses the text structure of Joseph Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ with the last words and/or correspondences of seven men who were killed by police or authority figures. It is a deeply emotional work that highlights the humanity of each of these men who were taken before their time. This is followed by the album’s single, Dr. Eugene Rogers’ arrangement of Glory, a hopeful reflection on Seven Last Words, a reflection on unity, and a call for us to all come together as one. BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL concludes with Scenes from the Life of a Martyr featuring soloists: Elaine Alvarez, soprano, Rehanna Thelwell, mezzo, Demetrious Sampson Jr.,  tenor, and Marques Jerrell Ruff, narrator/bass.

CDs will be available at

The BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL album was recorded live at the Eugene Concert Choir’s 2023 Black is Beautiful concert with guest choir EXIGENCE at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in Eugene, OR. Highlighting artistry within Black and Latinx communities, EXIGENCE, based in Detroit, Michigan, but with nationwide reach, is composed of professional vocal artists including solo performers, educators, conductors, and composers. 

The idea for a collaboration between the Eugene Concert Choir and EXIGENCE began in 2020 as a response to the police killing of George Floyd. Retallack remembers “As the words of Eric Garner in 2014, “I can’t breathe,” continued to resonate through George Floyd, Joel Thompson’s extraordinary work, Seven Last Words of the Unarmed had become overwhelmingly relevant.” She wanted to present Seven Last Words to her community as a way to process grief and encourage healing through music. She contacted Dr. Rogers, who premiered Seven Last Words, and told him her vision. The rapport between the two artistic directors was instantaneous and Retallack’s vision evolved into the Black is Beautiful Project - Eugene Concert Choir’s largest project to date.

The release of the BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL album represents the conclusion of this project, which included a 4-day EXIGENCE residency in Eugene, workshops and masterclasses led by EXIGENCE members for students of the University of Oregon and Eugene area high schools, the collaborative Black is Beautiful concert at the Hult Center, a community forum on the importance of the Black is Beautiful repertoire, an on-demand video recording of the concert, and the live concert recording. 

"We are honored to share the beauty and power of this music," says Dr. Retallack. “We hope that listening to this album will be a meaningful and inspiring experience. It is a celebration of Black artists and a reminder of the importance of diversity in our communities."

Photo Credit: Jeremy Bronson, Bronson Studios 

The Black is Beautiful project was supported by generous funding from the Hult Endowment, the Oregon Cultural Trust, A-Squared Productions, and the Eugene Concert Choir’s very first grant award from the National Endowment for the Arts.