The Black Warrior is in effect an oratorio, involving a large orchestra plus spoken as well as sung narrations, two vocal soloists (soprano and baritone), chorus, and a quartet of singers sitting in the orchestra, vocalizing as ‘instrumentalists’. It was inspired by the remarkable words of Martin Luther King embodied in a text known as the Letter from Birmingham City Jail. It is the extraordinary document in which King first articulated (and defended to a group of clergy) his philosophy of non-violent action.
In my composition I have distributed King’s text more or less equally among the various vocal forces listed above, sometimes singly, sometimes in various combinations and interrelationships.
I think of my work as a tribute to the great civil rights leader and superb orator, and hope that The Black Warrior will complement meaningfully the magnificent but controversial heritage of King’s contribution to the profound social and historic changes for and to which he gave his life.
— Gunther Schuller