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God’s Trombones’ Sermons Performed as a Play

God’s Trombones’ Sermons Performed as a Play

By Marsha Gilbert

Frankie Darcell, director and producer of God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, introduces the cast at the Penn’s Landing Playhouse inside the Independence Seaport Museum.

Local actors shared their oratory skills in three shows November 9-11 as they performed dramatic recitations of James Weldon Johnson’s classic essays from the book God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, at the Penn’s Landing Playhouse inside the Independence Seaport Museum.

WDAS FM radio personality Frankie Darcell produced and directed the timeless work that was first published in 1927. Darcell, who founded Diva at the Stage Door Productions in 2009, wrote original monologues delivered by narrators: Aurica Hurst, Fatoumata Nanakasse, and Saj “Purple Queen” Blackwell throughout the show that added modern day topics, such as women’s equality, to the already powerful masterpiece.

Many of the cast wore black or white ministerial robes and the stage was set to look like a church pulpit with a lectern, crosses, plants, and chairs. They delivered impressive renditions of lengthy pieces with Biblical themes.

Johnson, who lived from 1871–1938, was a civil rights activist, poet, novelist, and anthologist. He described God’s Trombones as “an art-governed expression of the traditional black preaching style.” He is probably best known for writing the words to Lift Every Voice and Sing, which is referred to as the Negro National Anthem.

“When I think about the work of James Weldon Johnson it brings chills to my heart,” said Darcell recently on her podcast, Headlines with Frankie Darcell. “How particularly as a community of African-Americans when we think of incredible historians and those individuals in our community, we cannot right off that part of our history. We have to keep their names alive and their work alive. This is my contribution to being able to keep someone like James Weldon Johnson’s legacy alive.”

Co-owner and publisher of the Philadelphia Sunday Sun Catherine Hicks helped open the show with Philadelphia City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown, who also presented Darcell with a proclamation from the city for her contributions in entertainment.

The cast and the pieces they performed included:

Ben Kendell - The Prodigal Son

John W. Frisby – A Funeral

Branden Brook - Let My People Go Part 1

Bryant M. Greene – Let My People Go. Part 2

Dexter C. Stuckey – Noah Built the Ark. Part 1

Francisco Joseph – Noah Built the Ark. Part 2

Dexter Watson - Noah Built the Ark. Part 3

T.C. Caldwell - The Creation

Brandon Best – The Crucifixion

Jean Wright II – The Prayer

Performing original pieces written by Darcell were:

Céshia Sheree – Who Is She?

Pastor Pamela K. Williams – God Needs Me

Philadanco D/2 also performed “Oh Freedom” choreographed by Jamilla Toombs. Janae Brown was the soloist and Gregory D. Simpson was the musical director for the production.


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