As part of a series of Black History Month events organized by the Black Students League, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and the Office of Student Engagement, Keith Mburu ’23 performed a virtual concert with musician Leon Spencer. Spencer is a performer, vocal instructor, and choral director from Kennett Square, PA (and also its former mayor).
The event celebrated Black artists and Black music throughout American history. The performers sang the songs—Mburu from Marshall Auditorium on campus, Spencer from Kenneth Square—explaining the history behind the music as they went.
The evening began with songs from the time of slavery, like spiritual “Ezekiel Saw The Wheel.” Then the performers moved forward in history to sing blues songs, like “Born Under a Bad Sign,” jazz, gospel, and more recent music.
Spencer said that he hoped if there was one thing that viewers took away from the event, it was that all of this music has great meaning if you only stop and think about the words.
Mburu performed two songs: Sam Cooke’s 1964 “A Change is Gonna Come” and Alicia Keys’ 2014 “We Gotta Pray.”
“Its message is very specific and detailed in its description of the struggles of the Black American, but also one that is confident in the coming of better days,” said Mburu of “A Change is Gonna Come.” “Sam Cooke died not long after the song was released and couldn’t get to see how much it touched and inspired. In performing the song, I tried to do his life, his legacy, and the cultural significance that the song holds some form of justice.”
“We Gotta Pray” was written half a century later, but shares Cooke’s song’s focus on Black liberation.
“It was written with the backdrop of police brutality and features a transition from chaos and fear to an empowering call to action. Alicia Keys was inspired to write it by the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, at the hands of a white police officer,” he said. “She released it on the day that a grand jury failed to indict the white officer that killed Eric Garner, yet another unarmed Black man. My hope for the performance was that I could honor and celebrate their lives and memory.”
Mburu is involved with music across campus. He sings with Bi-Co Chamber Singers, Haverford S-Chords a cappella group, and is considering a music minor. While he admits he was nervous, the performance was a resounding success.
“After dedicating a lot of time and effort to preparing for the event, it was really encouraging to receive all kinds of feedback about how moving the performance was and how much people enjoyed my singing,” Mburu said. “I’m pushing myself to find my own voice, which I’m realizing is really worthwhile.”
He also appreciated the chance to work with Spencer.
“Leon Spencer is such a talented, wise, and accomplished musician, and so I was excited to perform alongside him,” said Mburu. “He was brilliant to speak to and it was a privilege to feature with him at the same event. I really hope our paths cross again.”
Spencer reiterated this hope. “I was so pleased and honored to be a part of this opportunity,” he said. “In the months to come, hopefully, we will meet all face to face in person.”
The concert was a part of an entire month of programming that included a conversation with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, a panel of alumni of Haverford’s Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows program, a performance and workshop by Philadanco, and much more. This slate of Black History Month events was organized by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Office of Student Engagement, and a committee of Black students including Madison Adore ’21, Darius Graham ’22, Ebony Graham ’23, Bilikisu Hanidu ’23, Jalen Martin ’23, and Lourdes Taylor ’21. Martin also acted as M.C. for Mburu and Spencer’s concert.
Photo by Abigail Isakov ’24.