African-American author’s biblical plays to grace LSU stage

Celebrate Black History Month with LSUDrama and its performances of scripture-based poetry first penned in 1927 by acclaimed African-American author, attorney and NAACP organizer James Weldon Johnson. La Sierra's drama students, pictured above, will direct eight, one-act plays based on Weldon's poetry titled "God's Trombones
Celebrate Black History Month with LSUDrama and its performances of scripture-based poetry first penned in 1927 by acclaimed African-American author, attorney and NAACP organizer James Weldon Johnson. La Sierra's drama students, pictured above, will direct eight, one-act plays based on Weldon's poetry titled "God's Trombones
Trombonist Art Kharns to perform Negro Spirituals for "God's Trombones."
Trombonist Art Kharns to perform Negro Spirituals for "God's Trombones."

Feb. 19, 2010

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – ( After 400 years of bondage and captivity, the children of God have finally been set free. All of their problems are over, their luck has changed . . . or has it? So goes the recounting of the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt as directed by La Sierra University student Will Williams.

It is just one of eight student-directed, Bible-based one act plays being performed with a unique, artistic twist at La Sierra University on Feb. 24, 25, 27 and 28. These pieces of scripture, penned in 1927 by James Weldon Johnson and collectively titled “God’s Trombones,” are united by a central theme; Christianity. Included are popular parables and stories such as the prodigal son, Noah and the ark, Moses, and the crucifixion. Other poems cover topics like salvation, creation, death, and the final judgment. Adam and Eve, grave diggers, dancers, and even mobs deck the stage as each poem is brought to life.

Johnson, an acclaimed African-American author, professor, attorney and early civil rights activist wrote these poetic sermons in 1927, capturing the voice of the Black folk preacher. Around 1900 Johnson also wrote, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is often referred to as “The African-American National Anthem.” His brother, John Rosamond Johnson, set it to music. The song was first performed publicly by five hundred students at Stanton School where Weldon Johnson served as principal. In 1916 Johnson was asked to become field secretary and an organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1917 he organized the NAACP’s historic mass protest silent march in Manhattan, New York. By 1920, Johnson was promoted to general secretary of the NAACP.

Johnson’s inspiration for the title of the collection of poetry on scripture was derived from a folk preacher whose tone and expression supposedly reminded him of the trombone, which is believed to be the brass instrument most resembling the emotion, range, and sound of the human voice.

As a tribute to “God’s Trombones,” trombonist Art Kharns will be performing a series of Negro Spirituals between each act. He has been playing the trombone since 1971, but his first instrument was the tuba. He lives in Simi Valley, Calif. and has a degree in music education from Pacific Union College with an emphasis in low brass.

Kharns’ accomplishments include playing with ‘Big Gospel’, teaching elementary music in Portland, Ore. and directing community groups, orchestras and a brass ensemble. He currently performs with the Ventura jazz orchestra and serves as an alternate in the Gold Coast Wind Ensemble. Other than performing, Kharns also enjoys “arranging, song writing, and playing jazz guitar,” he said.

“God’s Trombones” will take place in La Sierra University’s Matheson Hall on February 24, 25, 27, and 28 at 8 p.m. A campus map is at

Tickets cost $10 for general admission and $7 for LSU students/staff/faculty. Tickets go on sale February 15 and will be available from the LSUDrama box office, which is located in the English/Communication department office in South Hall. Hours are Tuesday and Thursday 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Box office phone number: (951) 785-2241. Reservations may also be made by emailing

Tickets are also sold at the door on the evening of a performance (if available). The box office opens at 7 p.m. on the evening of a performance. Reserved tickets that have not been paid for are released for sale at 7:30 p.m.

Student Directors: Edgar Hernandez (The Prodigal Son), Darren Thomas (Creation), Rebecca Kern (Listen Lord-A Prayer), Daniel Skoretz (Go Down Death), Patrick Garrett York (The Crucifixion), Will Appiah (The Judgment Day), Will Williams (Let My People Go), and Denby Rasmussen (Noah Built the Ark).
“Listen, Lord—A Prayer” - Directed by Rebecca Kern
Every day flies by fast and we tend to lose ourselves and forget why we are on this green earth. In an artistic interpretation of "Listen, Lord -- A Prayer" a man asks God to send mercy and compassion to the sinners of this world. His congregation follows as they humble themselves under the presence of God above. This walking man asks the Lord to help the weak to the narrow road of salvation and to be protected from the devil.
“Creation” - Directed by Darren Thomas
As God the Father is creating the world in six days, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit offer “helpful” commentary in a joyful take on the story of creation. The audience will enjoy a rich visual spectacle of this story. As the firmament is created, the angelic dancers will cover the stage with swathes of green fabric, blue for the sky and bright yellow to represent the sun.
“The Prodigal Son” - Directed by Edgar Hernandez
The story of a young man who takes his inheritance early in order to experience the world, leading him on a surreal journey, which teaches him an important lesson about life. The story of the prodigal son is being retold with a twist, as it is set in modern times.
“Go Down Death” - Directed by Daniel Skoretz
GO DOWN DEATH and bring my child home.  This is what the Lord said--so don't cry.  This new take on a poem telling of God calling his children home features five grave diggers telling the story of their fallen friend and her trip home.  This Gothic style piece is mixed with Southern Blues and the brilliant words of African American preachers. It is an adventure with the message of ‘don't morn those who are one step closer to meeting the Father’.
 “Noah Built the Ark” - Directed by Denby Rasmussen
This sermon begins with the creation story as its background and leads forward to the Great Flood. It features some powerful dialogues between God and man, as well as man and Satan. Simple matching, mostly black, wardrobes will highlight facial expression and body movement to help tell the story in a striking, visual fashion while clever poetic construction delivers a powerful message.  
“The Crucifixion” - Directed by Patrick Garrett York
Jesus’ murder was bitter sweet.  Bitter because of the pain and loss, sweet because of the beautiful promise of salvation.  This version of Johnson’s original attempts to show the battle of the violent, hateful passion of the crucifixion and the blinding, long-suffering passion of the faithful, with the audience in the middle.
“Let My People Go” - Directed by Will Williams
Pharaoh and his army give one last push with anger and force, desperately trying to take back what’s theirs! This recreation of "The Exodus" has everything from plagues of death to pillars of fire, but when the gushing waters of the red sea come crashing down on Pharaoh's army who's side will you be on? The choice is yours.....
“The Judgment Day” - Directed by Will Appiah
With God as the judge overseeing the trial for your very life, one member of the jury will be taken by the bailiff and put on the stand. Will Lucifer's words penetrate and seal your soul? Or will Michael's warning be able to save you? Where will you stand? This take on The Judgment Day puts the end of times perspective into a modern courtroom setting.


PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University
Riverside, California
951.785.2460 (voice)


  • Last update on  February 23, 2010