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HBCU PROFESSORS JOIN FORCES WITH LOCAL EARLY MUSIC SPECIALISTS AND INTERNATIONAL SCHOLARS TO CREATE FILM ABOUT THE FIRST SONG WRITTEN IN EARLY HAITIAN CREOLE AND ITS UNIQUE LINKS TO PHILADELPHIA, LOUISIANA, AND FRANCE.

August 5, 2021

Lincoln University, PA. Haitian singer and researcher Jean Bernard Cerin and filmmaker Brandi Berry of Lincoln University are producing Lisette, a documentary about a song written in colonial Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) that has traversed the globe. The film details how the song took on new melodies and altered lyrics as people living on the island migrated during the Haitian Revolution. In the early twentieth century, the song was reclaimed in modern Haiti and mobilized as a symbol of Haitian pride and resistance during American occupation. The film will premier via Livestream on August 21st, 2021 at 4:45 p.m. EDT at the International Florence Price Festival. A post-screening talk will immediately follow at 5:30 p.m. EDT.

This film is part of The Lisette Project, a digital humanities initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation at Lincoln University. Cerin and Berry are both professors in the Performing Arts and Mass Communications departments, respectively, at the nation’s first degree-granting historically black college/university. “I have been researching this song for three years now,” noted Cerin, “ever since I curated a music series that explored the relationship between Louisiana and Haiti. What fascinates me is how both places claim this song as their own.” The purpose of this film and larger project is to share this rich history with a broader audience and to facilitate further research and performance.

This song has a special connection to the Philadelphia area. The first recorded history of the piece was in a book about Saint-Domingue published in Philadelphia in 1797 by a man who had lived on the island. Today, music students learn this song as it was popularized by the African American composer, pianist, and ethnographer, Camille Nickerson who led the music program at Howard University for almost fifty years. Nickerson championed Louisiana Creole folk repertoire both publishing songs and touring the country with her one-woman show, “Louisiana Lady.” 

In addition to producing the documentary, The Lisette Project has created and curated historically accurate recordings of five important versions of “Lisette quitté la plaine.” These videos are available on their website and provide scholars and performers with important historical context and additional resources. Several notable musicians have collaborated with Cerin on this project including baroque guitarist Richard Stone, co-artistic director of Tempesta di Mare and baroque oboist Debra Nagey, artistic director of Cleveland’s Les Délices.

For more information about the project, please visit www.lisetteproject.org.

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