Carlos Simon in the studio
Category: Spirit of Georgetown

Title: Award-Winning Composer Honors 272 Enslaved People Through Hip Hop and Liturgical Work

Date Published: February 28, 2022
carlos simon at the piano

Carlos Simon is an award-winning composer and musician. He’s the composer-in-residence at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and has written concert music and film scores. He’s toured internationally and performed with U.S. symphonies such as the Boston Pops alongside a Grammy-Award winner. In 2018, his album, “My Ancestor’s Gift,” was featured on Apple Music’s “Albums to Watch,” and in 2021, he received the Sphinx Medal of Excellence, an award that recognizes outstanding classical Black and Latinx musicians.

Throughout his career, the Georgetown music professor has been consistently drawn to one theme: social justice. 

“As a composer, I want to use music as a platform to talk about issues of our time. The projects I’m drawn to have always been about telling the stories of people who aren’t often heard or are misrepresented or marginalized.”

–Carlos Simon

His latest work, “Requiem for the Enslaved,” continues his lifelong passion.

In 2020, Simon joined Georgetown’s Department of Performing Arts as an assistant professor. During his interview process, he learned about the history of the GU272, when the Maryland Province of the Jesuits, who ran Georgetown at the time, sold 272 men, women and children in 1838 – one of the largest sales of human beings in U.S. history. He was determined to honor the lives of those who were enslaved and their more than 8,000 Descendants. 

Simon visited the Georgetown Slavery Archive where the original Bill of Sale notes the names of the men, women and children who were sold. He visited the site of a former plantation in Maringouin, Louisiana, and met with members of the Descendent community to hear their stories. As the pandemic set in, Simon spent time in his Maryland studio turning over these encounters, processing his emotions. He began composing.

Simon’s “Requiem for the Enslaved” debuted at the Library of Congress on Nov. 5, 2021. It infuses African American spirituals into a Catholic liturgical musical form and is performed by the Hub New Music ensemble and spoken word artist and Georgetown Hip Hop Artist in Residence Marco Pavé. Simon plays the piano and is accompanied by trumpeter Jared Bailey.

“I wanted to show that music has the power of equalizing things. We’re all humans. We’re all made by God,” Simon says. “This work takes the form of a spiritual experience, and I wanted to make clear that we’re honoring the enslaved.”

Learn more about Georgetown’s long-term and ongoing process to more deeply understand and respond to the university’s role in the injustice of slavery and the legacies of enslavement and segregation in our nation.