DETROIT — May 19th marked the day Malcolm would have turned 97 years-old. The Black Muslim minister and human rights activist was celebrated and remembered during a special reception and dedication at Detroit Opera. Mayor Mike Duggan announced a “Malcolm X Day” in his honor.
At the same venue, an ‘X Talk’ was held with Minister Troy Muhammad, Wayne County Sherriff Warren Evans, and Detroit historian Jamon Jordan as they reflected on X’s life and legacy.
“Malcolm X means everything to Detroit,” said Minister Troy Muhammad. “Any resistance you see in Detroit, any organizing against injustice, it has to do with Malcolm X. To have a panel discussion on this before great opera, you’re using culture to educate people.”
The day of celebration embarked on the second showing for a three-day production of X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, headlined at Detroit Opera.
The X opera production depicts the time-honored tale of Malcolm X coupled with the sounds from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Anthony Davis.
“Over 35 years ago, X premiered at New York City Opera to a world that is very different from today, yet shockingly the same,” said Davis. “The memory of George Floyd a mere two years ago reminds us of what has not changed. With this in mind, we present a new version of the opera for a new audience, a new generation…”
Born Malcolm Little, the opera production takes audiences through the historical journey which includes X’s rise and fall, his Lansing MI upbringing, prison, and his introduction to the Nation of Islam.
“We are contextualizing the opera by centering a radical Black imagination that embodies who Malcolm X was and what it means to us today,” said Robert O’ Hara, the production’s director. “Imagining ourselves into the future is a powerful mechanism for dealing with our present.”
The role of Malcolm X is portrayed by Davóne Tines, an acclaimed bass-baritone artist, Tines is a Black, gay, classically trained performer at the intersection of many histories, cultures, and aesthetics, his work blends opera, art song, contemporary classical, spirituals, gospel, and songs of protest, as a means to tell a deeply personal story of perseverance that connects to all of humanity.
“In the work I do, I try to be very honest and real about what the context is in which I’m working. I thought getting to know Detroit and getting to have some connectivity to this place would be very critical in order for me to play such an iconic figure from Detroit.”
Getting to know Detroit allowed him to connect to the spirit of the city and embrace the character it embodies, lessons that have shaped him into developing an outstanding character performance in X.
Tines spent some time in the fall touring the Charles H. Wright Museum for African American History. The experience helped personalize and better understand the career and life moments of Malcolm X.
“I’m a Black person operating in a context of opera that is not always understood to be connected to blackness,” Tines said. “But I’ve always been more excited about the possibilities of what the institution of opera has to offer.”
X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X offered a riveting look at an influential Black man determined to advocate for the progressive of mankind and the equal justice deserved, told in a Afrofuturism lens and to the musical ear of swing, scat, and modal jazz.
“I enjoyed it because it was the truth and it was told like it should’ve been told a long time ago,” said Pat Cole, a native Detroiter who attended the X’s showing. “The younger generation don’t know anything it, …you can tell the truth as many times as somebody will listen to it.”
The X opera production captured the hearts of many attendees locally and guests who traveled to Michigan to witness a-storied history of a man who fought against the oppression of his people and on issues which remain a modern-day challenge.
“The ambience was break-taking, I really enjoyed it,” said Tenasia Hatch, of Detroit. “We keep people alive thorough work, through using their name, and through sharing history. We hand down our history through stories and I believe Malcolm played a pivotal role in ours. There’s something we all can continue to learn through presentations like this.”