Come, My Tan-Faced Children


Melissa Dunphy

Walt Whitman

Performance forces:
mez — str orchestra



Come, My Tan-Faced Children was commissioned in recognition of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Walt Whitman, but it is not a blind celebration of that poet’s legacy. Intended for performance by a Black mezzo-soprano, this song recontextualizes words from Whitman’s poem Pioneers! O Pioneers! in a way that the poet almost certainly never intended. Although Whitman campaigned against slavery, he held regressive racist views about African-Americans and did not believe they should be given full citizenship rights. Pioneers! O Pioneers! was Whitman’s call to arms for white pioneers in the American West to fight in the Civil War, but by removing the title and the last line of each stanza, and placing the words in the mouth of a woman of color, the song carries an entirely different meaning, especially now during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Also exists arranged for mez and pno, and for mez, vln, db, and pno.