Barbara Harbach, professor of music at UMSL, wrote "Freedom Suite," which will make its debut Monday at the Touhill.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the University of Missouri–St. Louis will celebrate not only one of the most famous civil rights leaders, but also one of St. Louis’ most historically significant families. Dred, Harriet, Eliza and Lizzie Scott will be remembered in music with the premiere of “Freedom Suite” by Barbara Harbach, professor of music at UMSL.

The performance is part of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observance at UMSL, which begins at 10 a.m. Jan. 17 at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. It’s free and open to the public.

The composition’s three movements will be performed by the Dickson String Quartet with Charles Clements on bass. All five performers are students at UMSL. Harbach said it was an easy choice to go with student performers for the debut of her new work.

“When it came time to select musicians to give the premiere of ‘Freedom Suite,’ I looked no further than the Department of Music at UMSL,” she said. “Charles and the members of the Dickson String Quartet are exemplary performers, and they represent the remarkable wealth of student talent we have in the department.”

The historic Scott family that inspired Harbach’s composition is best known for the 1846 suit Dred and Harriet filed in St. Louis in an attempt to obtain their freedom from slavery. The legal fight lasted more than a decade, ending with a U.S. Supreme Court decision ruling against the Scotts. The decision factored in the start of the Civil after tensions continued to increase between free and slave states.

Harbach is no stranger to the time period surrounding the Civil War. She previously researched that era in American history for “Booth!”, a musical she scored. The production, which made its debut at UMSL in 2007, focused on the life of Edwin Booth, a famous 19th century Shakespearean actor and brother of John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

It was during Harbach’s research for “Booth!” that she became intrigued by the Scott family.

“I was inspired and fascinated with the story of Harriet and Dred Scott,” Harbach told The St. Louis American in an article that ran Jan. 6. “Although they could neither read nor write, their legal fight for freedom would eventually contribute to the Civil War and the end of slavery in America.”

Blood descendents of Dred and Harriet Scott still live in St. Louis today, and The St. Louis American reported that their great-great-granddaughter, Lynne Jackson, plans to attend the UMSL event.

In addition to the Dickson String Quartet’s performance of Harbach’s “Freedom Sutie,” the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observance will feature Jeff Small, news anchor at KSDK (Channel 5), as master of ceremonies; and Brenda Stith Loftin, associate circuit judge for St. Louis County Circuit Court Division 33, as guest speaker. The event is sponsored by the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity at UMSL.

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Ryan Heinz

Ryan Heinz