From The Diary of Sally Hemings

Sandra Seaton’s recent work, From The Diary Of Sally Hemings, is a collaboration with composer William Bolcom , who set Seaton’s text to music.  A song cycle, the work recreates the thoughts and feelings of Sally Hemings throughout her long relationship with Thomas Jefferson by means of fictional diary entries.  CD available on White Pine.  Score available at Hal Leonard.

From The Diary Of Sally Hemings was performed by mezzo-soprano Florence Quivar throughout the United States during 2001 and 2002.  Ms. Quivar, who commissioned the work, sings in the performance listed below:

  • World Premiere, Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress, March 16, 2001

  • West Coast Premiere, San Francisco Performances, Herbst Theatre, April 16, 2001

  • Lied Center, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, February 5, 2002

  • Van Wezel Performing Arts Society, Sarasota, Florida, February 8, 2002

  • University Musical Society, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, February 13 & 17, 2002

  • Vocal Arts Society at the Kennedy Center, Recital Hall, Washington, DC, February 19, 2002

  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, February 21, 2002

  • Atlanta, Georgia, February 23, 2002

Alyson Cambridge Performances:

  • Kennedy Center
  • Carnegie Hall
  • The Crypt
  • Victory Hall Opera
  • Monticello
  • CMU
  • Oberlin
  • Case Western
  • Glimmerglass Festival

Marti Newland Performed

Joelle LaAmarre Performances:

  • MSU
  • Givonna Joseph Performances:
  • Opera Creole

“In the world premiere of a new song cycle by William Bolcom with text by playwright Sandra Seaton, mezzo-soprano Florence Quivar’s “burnished, seductive voice” (Houston Voice) brings to life this imaginative recreation of a complex, vital Sally Hemings who refuses to be identified merely as Jefferson’s mistress.”

Library of Congress Press Release

January 22, 2001

Herbst Theatre, San Francisco

“Renowned for her vibrantly rich tone and dramatic versatility, Florence Quivar is equally home on the opera, concert, and recital stages. This made her a natural choice for a Music Accord commission, and she has made a particularly fascinating choice for the subject of her song cycle: the story of Sally Hemings, slave and mistress of Thomas Jefferson. With music by noted American composer, William Bolcom and a wonderful libretto by playwright Sandra Seaton, this promises to be a memorable evening.”

Clifford Orent Trustee

San Francisco Performances from Stagebill, April, 2001

Florence Quivar and Harolyn Blackwell perform together at venues listed below:

Two of America’s finest and most respected artists, Florence Quivar and Harolyn Blackwell, appear in recital together for the first time, performing song cycles by two acclaimed composers.  Florence Quivar sings From the Diary of Sally Hemings, an imaginative recreation of a complex, vital Sally Hemings who refuses to be identified merely as Thomas Jefferson’s mistress.  The song cycle was composed especially for her by William Bolcom to a text by Sandra Seaton.  Blackwell offers Honey and Rue, composed by Andre Previn to a text by Toni Morrison.  The program is supplemented by duets, songs, operatic selections and spirituals.

Joint performances by Florence Quivar and Harolyn Blackwell were held at the following sites:
Lied Center Series, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas
University Musical Society, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Vocal Art Society, Washington, DC


Alyson Cambridge/Lydia Brown From the Diary of Sally Hemings

James Manheim
AllMusic online

Opera News Album Review: From the Diary of Sally Hemings

Joshua Rosenblum
Opera News, August 1, 2010

“Sandra Seaton: Her First Libretto”

David Lewman

LASNews: Alumni Magazine for the College of Arts and Sciences, Spring, 2003, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana

Song cycle explores presidential tryst

Paul Horsley
The Kansas City Star, February 7, 2002

“Hemings”: Shards of History
William Bolcom’s New Song Cycle Gives A Wide Berth To Melodrama

Philip Kennicott
The Washington Post

Sung with Feeling, The Washington Post

Ronald Broun, February 21, 2002

Alyson Cambridge Recital

Anne Midgette
The Washington Post, January 21, 2016.

Alyson Cambridge & Michael Fennelly: From the Diary of Sally Hemings

Joanne Sydney Lessner
Opera News, February 2018, Vol. 82, No. 8

Alyson Cambridge Sings at The Crypt: William Bolcom’s Song Cycle on Sally Hemings

Susan Hall
Berkshire Fine Arts, November 16, 2017


The Glimmerglass Glimpse, 2020

From the Diary of Sally Hemings: William Bolcom/Sandra Seaton, 2013

For more information on Sally Hemings & Thomas Jefferson, please visit the PBS/Frontline site, “Jefferson’s Blood.”

Black Opera History Power and Engagement, “Haunted Legacies: Interracial Secrets from The Diary of Sally Hemings,” by Naomi Andre

In Naomi Andre’s new book, Black Opera History Power and Engagement, a chapter titled “Haunted Legacies: Interracial Secrets from The Diary of Sally Hemings,” provides an in depth treatment of  this powerful work.

Find Andre’s book here.

From the Diary of Sally Hemings, a song cycle for voice and piano with libretto by Sandra Seaton and music by composer William Bolcom, was written at the request of mezzo soprano Florence Quivar.  The work recreates the thoughts and feelings of Sally Hemings throughout her long relationship with Thomas Jefferson by means of fictional diary entries.  The 18 songs in this imaginary journal provide a surprising yet persuasive interpretation of the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, officially a slave but also the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson. The songs trace the life of Sally Hemings from her earliest memory, Martha Jefferson dying from complications following childbirth, to her sojourn in Paris with Jefferson and finally her life with Jefferson at Monticello until his death.

Premiered by mezzo soprano Florence Quivar and pianist  J.J. Penna at Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress with additional performances at  Kennedy Center, San Francisco Performances, Lied Center,  Rialto, and University Musical Society. Performed bysoprano Alyson Cambridge and pianist Lydia Brown at Carnegie Hall, Central Michigan University, Harkness Memorial Chapel in Cleveland and Oberlin Conservatory.  CD available on White Pine.

Score available at Hal Leonard.

Image: From the Diary of Sally Hemings; Music by William Bolcom; Text by Sandra Seaton; Alyson Cambridge, soprano; Lydia Brown, piano; White Pine Music (2010).

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