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John Daniels Carter (b. 19 April 1932, St. Louis, Missouri; d. 24 July 1981, Hempstead, New York) studied music at Florida A&M University and piano and composition at Oberlin.  Carter served as composer-in-residence with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC, in 1968 and was an instructor at Federal City College, Washington, in the 1970’s.  As a pianist, Carter toured extensively, accompanying performers such as tenor William Brown.

Carter’s Cantata was published in 1964.  The five-song vocal suite was premiered by soprano Leontyne Price at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. The composer talked about his work in an interview with famed musicologist Dominique-René de Lerma:

Cantata is based on a few well-known spirituals.  I was always curious that Black composers rarely concerned themselves with this music.  They’ve been arranged, but Black composers have not cared for their folk music as have Chopin or Bartók, for example… This is what I decided to do with this material, with one movement for each of the five spirituals.  The first, for piano alone, is the “Prelude.” Second is a rondo, based on “Peter, Go Ring Them Bells.”  “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” is third, as an air, and then comes “Let Us Break Bread Together.”  The last movement is a toccata, “Ride on, King Jesus…”  As for the melodies, a lot of spirituals are pentatonic, and twelve minutes of five-note melodies might not be too interesting so I’ve not hesitated to alter the melodies.

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