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Northeast Ohio Musicians Say Black Lives Matter In Song

Jonathon Turner first started writing the notes to “My Black is Beautiful” several years ago, imagining it for students. But he put it aside until just recently, when the principal cellist of the Akron Symphony, Erica Snowden-Rodriguez, raised the idea of collaborating to make a statement in support of Black Lives Matter.

“I'm like, wow, she's really, really, you know, really passionate about this, which is great because she's not African-American,” said Turner, leader of Akron Symphony’s Gospel Meets Symphony Choir.

So Turner sat down at the piano and returned to his song while reflecting in the lyrics about the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis last month when an officer knelt on his neck for several minutes.

“That second verse really just kind of speaks about a black man in general not being a threat, not being a danger and having the ability to just have literally civil rights, civil and equal rights,” Turner said. “It gets more specific to George Floyd… when it says, ‘I can't breathe.’ And there's literally a break of music for like a beat and a half where everything just goes silent.”

After finishing the song in a matter of days, Turner performed and recorded the piece – at a social distance – with cello, piano and several members of the Akron Symphony’s Gospel Meets Symphony Choir, which is composed of singers from area churches and has a long tradition of performing with the symphony in an annual event. 

“When we sat down to do it for the first time,I don't want to say it was a train wreck but it was a train wreck, because everybody's listening to everybody else like, ‘wow, ooo, ah,’” he said. “To hear the words and to hear how… between the music and the words, there was this pleasant kind of handoff back and forth.”

After running through the song a few more times, the group recorded a performance to post online.

View the entire song, "My Black is Beautiful," by Jonathon Turner, shared on YouTube [Akron Symphony]

The Akron Symphony recently shared the video and issued a statement condemning racism: “We are committed to finding new ways to give voice to all communities and fully support Jonathon’s important message to remind everyone that we can and must be better as a nation.”

Turner said it is his hope the song helps people understand the meaning of Black Lives Matter.

“It’s an earnest plea from a marginalized minority that says, ‘hey, you know, we are experiencing these things.' And every time we make our voice heard about it, it seems as though we're responded to with, 'well, all lives matter,’” he said. “It's not to diminish the life of any other, but to say that, ‘hey, we have space here, too, and we just want to be treated that way.'”

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