U-M Men's Glee Club-commissioned "Seven Last Words of the Unarmed" has renewed urgency


Seven Last Words of the Unarmed creators

At top, a video still of "Seven Words of the Unarmed" performance by U-M Men's Glee Club, courtesy Chris McElroy, Michigan Media. Bottom left to right: Dr. Eugene Rogers, photo by Myra Klarman; composer Joel Thompson, photo by Laura Emiko Solti.

The names have changed, but the song remains the same.

Nearly five years ago the Men's Glee Club at the University of Michigan debuted a performance of "Seven Last Words of the Unarmed" by Atlanta-based composer Joel Thompson, written to honor seven people killed at the hands of the police: Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Kenneth Chamberlain, Amadou Diallo, and John Crawford.

But with the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor as recent reminders of police brutality, "Seven Last Words of the Unarmed" has renewed urgency. 

Dr. Eugene Rogers, who commissioned the work when he was director of the Men's Glee Club, has been working on compiling educational resources that complement the composition's focus, and now that material is available at sevenlastwords.org.

"It is unreal to me that we worked on this project so long ago, yet somehow resonates even more now than it did then," Rogers told the University of Michigan News. "People have been sharing it again and reaching out -- it has been really overwhelming."

The Seven Last Words website features more info about the seven men featured in the composition, discussion guides, educational resources, and the 24-minute-long Love, Life & Loss documentary, which features a performance of the piece plus interviews with Thompson, Rogers, and some of the student performers who sang at the October 2015 premiere. 

"'Seven Last Words of the Unarmed' is essentially a diary entry of the pain I was experiencing," Thompson told U-M News.

It's a pain he's undoubtedly feeling today, too.

Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.