In honor of Black History Month, an acclaimed organist will play African American spirituals on an acclaimed organ at Bethany Lutheran Church in Crystal Lake.
The free event features Anthony Williams, a professor of music at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., and former director of the famous Fisk Jubilee Singers.
Dating to 1871, the group is the first in America to introduce “slave songs,” as they were called in the 19th century, to the world. The Jubilee Singers entertained kings and queens in Europe.
Williams intends to carry on that tradition by intermixing the songs with more familiar pieces.
“I do try to promote a large body of music by black composers that is widely overlooked, and people don’t know it exists,” he said.
“This music, for a long time had not been played. . . I usually try to plan an eclectic program where I play music people would know and then the pieces they probably wouldn’t know to show the diversity.”
Before the concert at 4 p.m. Feb. 23 at the church, 76 W. Crystal Lake Ave., Williams will host a 3 p.m. “informal, pre-concert talk” about the music in the church’s balcony.
He said he looks forward to playing on the Agnes Carlson Memorial Pipe Organ, known affectionately at the church as “Agnes,” in honor of the late Agnes Carlson. A Carlson family gift enabled the purchase of the pipe organ.
Built in 2002, the organ has received national acclaim, appearing on the cover of “Pipe Organs of Chicago, Vol. II,” and is known as one of the finest tracker pipe organs in the Chicago metro area.
“It’s a really unique instrument,” Williams said. “You don’t see a lot of churches that have an organ quite like that.”
The church hosted a similar event last year allowing parishioners and others to see the organ up close and learn about both the instrument and the music it can produce.
“I think that the interesting part about this conference is that we have an African American organist coming during Black History Month,” the Rev. Carrie Smith said.
Among Williams’ pieces will be works that were originally written for musical clocks, owned by the wealthy and designed with small pipe organs built inside.