Steven M. Allen
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Rivers in the Desert

Rivers in the Desert

Narrator -  Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell

Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell PhD, MSPH is a native New Yorker who has lived in Washington, DC since 1968. Dr. Barnwell studied violin with her father for 15 years beginning at age 2 1/2, and majored in music through high school. With this background, she went on to earn the Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Speech Pathology (SUNY, Geneseo, 1967, 1968), Doctor of Philosophy in Speech Pathology (University of Pittsburgh, 1975), and the Master of Science in Public Health (Howard University, 1981).

Dr. Barnwell has been awarded four Honorary Doctorate Degrees, and the 2014 Humanitarian Award from the Washington Choral Arts Society. For over a decade, Dr. Barnwell was a professor at the College of Dentistry at Howard University, after which she administered health programs at Children’s Hospital National Medical Center and Gallaudet University in Washington, DC. Dr. Barnwell joined Sweet Honey In The Rock® in 1979 and recently retired from the ensemble after 34 years.

Dr. Barnwell has been a commissioned composer on numerous choral, film, video, dance and theatrical projects. Dr. Barnwell is the Curator/Composer of the FORTUNE’S BONES: THE MANUMISSION REQUIEM® which began as a year on project culminating in two performances at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center of the University of Maryland in 2012. She has, for the past thirty years spent much of her time offstage working as a master teacher and choral clinician in African American cultural performance.

Her workshop “Building a Vocal Community®: Singing in the African American Tradition” has been conducted on three continents, making her work in the field a significant source of inspiration for both singers and non-singers, and a model of pedagogy for educators, cultural activists and historians.

In May of 2016, President Obama nominated Dr. Barnwell for membership on the National Committee on the Arts which the Senate must confirm. Four axioms have proven significant in Barnwell’s life. To whom much is given, much is required. As one door closes, another door opens. Everything matters. Say YES!


Featured Performers  

Brandie Sutton, Soprano 

Hailed by The New York times for her "warm, ample voice" and "distinctive earthy coloring," and by Opera News for her "sumptuos, mid-weight soprano," Ms. Sutton first embraced classical music during her undergraduate studies at Oakwood University where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Music with a concentration in voice. She now holds a Master in Music degree from The Benjamin T. Rome School of Music at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

John Wesley Wright, Tenor


Tenor John Wesley Wright, D. M. A., is known for his artistic and soulful interpretations of music from baroque to Broadway. Holding degrees from Maryville College and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Wright has performed as a soloist throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan and is the winner of the American Traditions Competition 2000. A native of Rome, Georgia, Dr. Wright is coordinator of the voice and opera workshop programs at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland.

Alvy Powell, Bass 


Alvy Powell knew he'd be a bass baritone when his voice changed around the age of 16. Like most young men, he explored various hobbies, noodling on the clarinet for 15 years, running track, playing some basketball and singing in church. "I really didn't know [how I felt] about being a singer until I got to college," he says. Powell, who grew up in Cheriton on the Eastern Shore, discovered that he had an operatic voice while studying music at the University of Maryland at College Park, where the curriculum demanded classical singing.


Gregory Watkins,

Marked by an effervescent trademark that is his gorgeous smile, his infectious charm, and his upbeat energy on and off stage, GREG WATKINS is a born and bred Washington, DC native. He is considered by many to be a well-respected artist and virtuoso of his generation. Influenced by such greats as Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Sammie Davis, Jr., John Legend, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Quincy Jones, Greg is a delectable one-man show! Singer, pianist, musical director, composer and arranger, actor, voice talent, and a brilliantly-pure entertainer. He never ceases to amaze his audiences!

Damon L. Foster,
Freelance Dance Artist
and Choreographer

Has performed with the Dissonance Dance Theatre from 2012, and continues to assist with the company’s management, community affairs and external communications.  As a contributor and editor of the Ngoma Reader Magazine, Damon enjoys capturing the “life pulse” of the dance community through various interviews and special performances.

Kehembe V. Eichelberger,
Mezzo Soprano 

Native of Chicago, Illinois, completed Bachelor and Master of Music at Howard University. Vocal studies with LeRoy Dorsey, Frederick Wilkerson, McLean Bosfield, Hilda Harris, Grady Tate, and coached with Sylvia Olden Lee; performs as soloist, ensemble, studio vocalist on all Kennedy Center stages, Wolf Trap Farm Park;  opera companies include Washington Opera, Metropolitan Opera, and Victoria Opera - Australia; appeared on radio, television, recordings, European Classical, Jazz, Spirituals, including Folkways “Wade in the Water” series and the recent release of the recording “Hold On” recorded by the group PAUL.  Roles in opera, oratorio, or musicals include Carmen, Carmen Jones, Harlem Nocturne, Jelly’s Last Jam, Verdi’s Requiem Mass, Handel’s Messiah, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Rossini’s Stabat Mater, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and B Minor Mass.  Other performances where she is a featured soloist include the United States Supreme Court before the Justices,  a concert marking the works of artist/composer Shelton Becton, a Choral Arts Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall. Kehembe is on the faculty at Howard University. 

Lester Green,
Music Director


Collaborative pianist, vocal coach, and conductor is a member of the SINGTEAM Faculty (Scholars Invested, Nurturing Greatness, TeachingExcellence, growing Artistry and building Musicianship) in the Morgan State University Department of Fine and Performing Arts and serves as the music director for the Opera@Morgan.

Dr. Green has coached and conducted internationally including Studio Lirico in Cortona, Italy, has served as assistant conductor for the 2005 production of Porgy and Bess with the Washington National Opera; apprenticed at the Houston Ebony Opera Guild with Maestro Willie Waters.

In 2012 Green assisted the musical preparation for the documentary film, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and His Music in America 1900-1912 with Angela Brown, Roderick Dixon, Robert Honeysucker and members of the Longfellow Chorus. The film enjoyed a limited release in theaters in March 2013 and is being edited for television and film festivals.

A native of South Carolina, Green earned a B.M. in Piano Performance from the University of South Carolina; a Master of Music Degree and Graduate Performance Diploma in Piano at Peabody, and a D.M.A.

Steven M. Allen, American Composer and Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell, Historian, collaborate to share new perspectives of the Spirituals and other socio-cultural influences and performance practices derived from the African Diaspora. (Music Credit: "Lay Low in the Wilderness" - Steven M. Allen)