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Commemorating Black History Month in October 2022, violinist Madeleine Mitchell and pianist/composer Errolyn Wallen discuss the extraordinary life of Sojourner Truth, the American abolitionist and women’s rights activist who lived from 1797 to 1883.

Truth was originally named Isabella Baumfree, born a slave and sold at the age of 13. She lived during the time of slavery abolition legislation, though was denied freedom from her then owner, John Dumont. In 1826, she walked to freedom with her infant daughter Sophia, leaving behind three children. After going to court to recover her son from his new owners in 1828, she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man.

She changed her name to Sojourner Truth in 1843 and travelled the US countryside speaking up on behalf of African Americans and women. She dedicated her life fighting for a more equal society, including campaigning for abolition, voting rights and property rights.

’I wanted to capture in the music something just so overwhelmingly strong about her,’ Wallen said.

Mitchell commissioned Wallen to compose the work with the support of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust for International Women’s Day. The work is based on a slave song - ‘Your part is pretty virtuosic!’ Wallen says of the violin part. 

The video was filmed at the Royal College of Music in London, where both Mitchell and Wallen are professors, and was directed by Matt Belcher.