With the many thunderstorms we’ve been experiencing in Chicago this summer, one song has been on regular rotation in my mental playlist: Margaret Bonds’ Summer Storm, from her Songs of the Season cycle with texts by Langston Hughes.
A Chicago native, Margaret Bonds was born in 1913 into a musical family. Her mother, organist Estelle C. Bonds, was her first music teacher, and a close family friendship with Florence Price led to piano and composition lessons with the brilliant composer while Bonds was still in high school. In fact, Bonds went on to perform Price’s piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933. She later moved to New York, where she studied at Juilliard Graduate School and dedicated much of her career to supporting and advancing Black musicians and composers.
Simply put, we should know Margaret Bonds and her astonishing work much more than most of us do.
It was both exciting and challenging to dig into this particular song: Bonds embraces a broad palette of musical styles and colors in her work, and this song showcases that. From a blues-like anticipation of “July thunder” at the start, the music whirls into quick and angular “lightning in the sky, and a sudden gale that shakes the blossoms down.” The piano part then illustrates petals falling down like “confetti in your hair, confetti on the ground” as the vocal line gets swept into the love story unfolding in the “soft, sweet rain.”
The real thunder turns out to be a pounding heartbeat of being “hand in hand”, happy through the storm, with one’s love. Bonds creates a soaring ending that hearkens back to the start, exulting through Hughes’ words: “July thunder, in my heart, the wonder of love [...] The wonder of being in love with you.”
A fitting sentiment for today, in particular, as we celebrate Bridget’s July wedding this morning. Congratulations, Bridget - love to you and Elliot, and wishing you fairer weather than the thunderstorm in this song!
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