Joshua’s Boots 1999, 60′

  Libretto by Susan Kander, Music by Adolphus Hailstork

Black cowboys and the heyday of the American West.

fl/picc, cl, vn, vc, pno, perc

African-American soprano,white soprano, white mezzo, 2 white tenors,
African-American tenor, African-American baritone, white baritone, Africa-American treble,
young African-American soprano, Chorus all races.

Available from Theodore Presser

Commissioned by Opera Theater of St. Louis and Lyric Opera of Kansas City

Setting – Tennessee, Dodge City, Kansas and the western frontier circa 1878

Set in 1878, Joshua’s Boots is based on extensive research into the real “wild west,” specifically the recently “re-discovered” historical importance of Black Cowboys and the all-black Buffalo Soldiers in the opening up of the country. The opera is a real Western, complete with saloon singers and dancers, cowpokes and cowboy songs and life on the long, lonely and dangerous cattle drive. It was written for experienced high school or college age young people to perform alongside adult professionals and is scored for experienced youth orchestra players. It is aimed at middle school and high school audiences and their families.

Having witnessed his own father’s lynching (for making harness better and cheaper than the white harness-maker) Joshua flees Tennessee for Kansas, believed by Reconstruction-era ex-slaves to be the new Promised Land. Hopping a west-bound train, he lands in Dodge City, where he meets both cowboys and Buffalo Soldiers. Deciding he’s not cut out for army life, and because horses and harness are what he knows and loves best, Joshua is determined to become a real live cowboy.

He manages to land himself a job as a wrangler on a cattle drive. However, Frederick, the trail boss, is the son of an un-repentant confederate, and he makes life very difficult for Joshua until, during a stampede, Joshua saves the young man from being trampled. With the help of Cookie, the trail cook, Frederick learns that it’s time to move on from the Civil War; that, especially as a boss, he himself must stand for something new. At the end of the line, back in Dodge City, Frederick rewards Joshua by hiring him as a full-fledged wrangler with the promise, come spring, of his own calves to be the start of his own herd. Joshua achieves his dream of becoming “a real live cow-punchin’, dust-chewin’ cowboy” and the opera ends, as all good westerns should, in general merriment at a good saloon.

“…lively music…and a clever libretto” The Wall Street Journal
“…a thoroughly enjoyable, exciting and touching piece… it is really worth a trip, even if you’re no longer a young person. “River Front Times (St. Louis)


“…engaging and heartwarming”  The Kansas City Star


“…summertime magic… an enchanting show.” AMERICAN VISIONS, The Magazine of Afro-American Culture, St. Louis