Ricky Ian Gordon: When Sue wears Red

Written by Justin Austin


In category: Song of the Day

Published September 11, 2017

Last summer while I was a festival artist at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, I received an assignment to participate in a special Ricky Ian Gordon presentation. Nine singers were to be featured in concert performing a variety of pieces by Gordon. I initially declined my participation because I felt I was too busy and didn’t want to risk being underprepared. After the director of artistic administration called me into his office and asked me again to participate, I humbly accepted. I wasn’t going to say “No” to the face of someone that had just given me the opportunity of a lifetime to be singing a principle role at a place like OTSL. This was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and it almost didn’t happen!

The piece I was given was “When Sue Wears Red” This piece was my introduction to both Ricky Ian Gordon and to Langston Hughes who wrote the text. To the readers that know the work of both of these men, you can understand how mind blown I was when I researched them for this project. I had heard of both artists but had never actually worked on anything of theirs. The first work session with Ricky, I was stunned at how generous, loving, caring, and passionate of an individual he was and how that rang throughout his music. I was so nervous singing for him but managed to get through the piece the first time without falling on my face. After I finished, we went straight to work. “It needs more sex” he said looking at me serious as a war general. He then went on to say “Sing it from your crotch.” I couldn’t help myself and started to laugh. “There you go! Let’s have some fun with this.” he stated. I no longer was nervous and was able to have fun, tons of actual fun, in the worlds of these very serious and profound artists.

Langston was in high school when he wrote this poem. Before his period of sexual ambiguity, Hughes had a huge crush on a girl in his class named Sue. Langston describes how he feels about a particular red dress she wears by saying “Come with a blast of trumpets, Jesus!” which was eloquently translated to me by Ricky as “Damn, Girl!” Langston’s youth and carefree attitude in this time in his life is set perfectly by Gordon. Take a listen! If you care to hear a live performance of it, I’ll be singing this piece along with others on a very special concert curated by Ricky Ian Gordon on September 18 at 7pm in Greenfield Hall of the Manhattan School of Music.

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Praised in Opera News as “a gentle actor and elegant musician”, baritone Justin Austin joined Heidelberger Frühling in 2017 as a Lied Scholar Artist in Lied Akademie with Artistic Director Thomas Hampson and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis as a Richard Gaddes Festival Artist. In July 2016, Justin was honored by the National Association of Negro Musicians and named the National Winner of their prestigious Vocal Performance Scholarship. Justin is a NYFOS Emerging Artist program alum and this fall will make his Carnegie Hall recital debut and perform on the Mainstage with NYFOS in Take Care of This House.


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