Commissioned by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis for their inaugural New Work's Collective, Cook Shack follows the story of a young Black girl named Dayo who faces bullying in a new school. On a class field trip to a local wax museum exhibition loosely based on the St. Louis’ Griot Museum of Black History, Dayo meets three historic Black female inventors who teach her to accept and love her identity: Annie Malone, the first Black female millionaire who was credited for starting the Black hair industry; Dr. Patricia Bath, who revolutionized cataract surgery; and Marie Van Brittan Brown, who invented the modern home security system.
A new opera
December 2022 Workshop
Meroe Kahlia Adeeb, Tesia, and Olivia Johnson sings Marie Van Britten Brown's aria
Meroe Kahlia Adeeb, Tesia Kwarteng, and Olivia Johnson sing as Black female inventors Marie Van Britten Brown, Annie Malone, and Dr. Patricia E Bath and encourage Dayo (Flora Hawk) to shine her light!
Watch the 2022 World Premiere
Del'Shawn Taylor, Composer
To be able to create a work that empowers and celebrates Black women was so important to me. And to do it in a way that was not [glorifying] trauma, as we see a lot today with Black stories. Celebrating their contributions is empowering to the next generation of young Black women
Del’Shawn talked about this as his love letter to Black women – for me, it’s a love letter to ourselves, and to that inner child space that probably needs a little care. I realized, as I heard the piece sung [for the first time], ‘I am Dayo. I know this girl.
mEET THE CREATORS
a note from the creators
“As a composer,” says Del’Shawn Taylor, “bringing Cook Shack to life has been the proudest musical moment of my 29 years of life. For me, Cook Shack is my love letter to Black women and the superwomen in my life: my mom, my aunt, and my grandma. It was born from my reading of a quote by Malcom X which stated, ‘The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America,’ he said, ‘ is the black woman.’ In proposing this story to OTSL, I wanted this opera to be a movement of change, a resounding gong to the industry, to the world that this will no longer be true. As a Black man, who comes from a Black woman and was raised by strong Black women, I wanted to create an opera in which Black women are celebrated, seen, and creates roles where Black female opera singers can sing of their humanity, of their queendom. I wanted to displace whiteness, by centering the story around a young Black girl. Most importantly, I hope every little girl, every human being leaves seeing ‘who [they] are as their superpower.’”
In this moment when superheroes are half of our cultural conversation, what if we actually got to receive who our superheroes are? Ask someone else. Who is your superhero? “In St. Louis,” says Samiya Bashir, “someone like Keisha Lee, CEO of Annie Malone Children & Family Services, is one of our most inspiring, hard working superheroes. Someone like Lois D. Conley of the Griot Museum which began with her own whittling of our likenesses in wax so our people could be represented and remembered. Someone like my cousins Lucy, Linda, and Netta who teaches and leads our children every day as they grow to find their ways into themselves and their world.
In this work one little Black girl gets to represent the quintessential human American experience. Dayo is US.
“We, black women, get to be the we at the center of our collective consciousness that everyone can check into,” says Bashir. “Yet, even in a world where nearly nobody has the back of black women but us – we see those dancers who show up like the ancestors and children who carry us when we don’t even know which step to take, who frame us when we can’t find our light.
“We come from a people who made a way out of no way.” (Cook Shack)
American history, despite its own wrenching pain, has forgotten them. We didn't. And this work says, actually, they’re still here with us. Right now. Their work is all around them. We can see because of them. We are seen – and are surveilled – because of them. In this very city, one of the largest parades in the country happens every year under the name and in the memory of Annie Malone. And yet leave this city and she is a whisper. A friend in Philly found a graduate certificate from Poro College in the basement of the house she bought. It was from around the year Malone passed – nearly 100 years after she was born, of parents who were enslaved. They remain the strength we can pull from.
“As Black Americans continue to fight against the white washed history published in our school books,” says Taylor, “I believe Cook Shack is K.O. I hope everyone can leave the Cook Shack inspired to tell the stories of Annie Malone, Dr. Patricia E Bath, and Marie Van Britten Brown, remembering that Black history is American history.”