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Wade in the Water: Musical Life of American Civil Rights Leader

All are welcome to visit a new exhibit in Sterling Memorial Library—Wade in the Water: The Musical Life of American Civil Right Leader Bayard Rustin. This incredible blend of biography, music, and civil rights history come together in a stream of images and information celebrating Rustin’s life and work.

Recent historical accounts have credited Bayard Rustin (Hon. Yale Ph.D. 1984) with crafting the pacifist strategy of the modern civil rights movement (1954-1965). Rustin’s contributions to American politics and philosophy are little known to the American public (largely because Rustin was gay, historians now believe).

Even less well known are Rustin’s life and contribution as a serious musician. In an exhibit case on the Main Floor of Yale University Library you can learn about Bayard Rustin’s early (teen-aged) involvement with classical vocal and instrumental music, as well as his notable participation in African American choir performances in cities across the Midwestern and Northeastern United States. You can also learn about Rustin’s professional performing career in New York City during the late 1930s and his work in collecting repairing and building harpsichords in the 1940s and 1950s.
In addition you can learn how Rustin, starting in 1941, used his singing voice (and occasional self-accompaniment on the lute) to ground his audiences when he spoke nationwide on topics such as civil disobedience and non-violence. (He trained Martin Luther King in Civil Disobedience and Non-violence during the Montgomery Bus Boycotts.) His repertoire was sizable and included spirituals, slave songs, prison songs (he had served on a chain gang) and Elizabethan bal¬lads. A born-Quaker, he also made musical sound recordings as fundraisers for the pacifist organizations for which he worked.

In the exhibit, the stories of Rustin’s musical life are told in photographs, news articles, flyers album covers, documents, and timelines. At this Listening Station you can hear, on one CD, excerpts from five recordings of Bayard Rustin singing. Tracking information can be found on the reverse of this Listening Guide.

To hear the full recordings from which these excerpts are taken, please consult the Circulation Desk of this Library, the Gilmore Music Library of Yale University, where you will also find DVDs related to the life of Bayard Rustin.