The remains of 95 African Americans from the late 19th to early 20th century were discovered at a Sugar Land construction site in 2018. It turns out they were part of the state’s convict leasing program, which allowed prisoners to be leased out to plantations; in essence slavery by another name.
Their story inspired jazz drummer and Houston native Kendrick Scott to write his piece, “Unearthed.” It premieres Friday at the Wortham Center in downtown Houston, part of DACAMERA. It’s a collaboration between Scott, the Harlem String Quartet and former poet laureate Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton.
Scott discussed the performance with Houston Matters producer Joshua Zinn.
Scott said he first heard about the Sugar Land 95 in 2019. He said he read a story about Reginald Moore, who was a major advocate for the Sugar Land 95.
“The thing that touched me about it was, here were 95 people that were ignored, and here was a man who was ignored and tried to tell everybody that they were there,” he said.
Scott said he was recommended to Mouton, and though he rarely uses words with his music, he felt poetry would fit best.
“Trying to condense convict leasing, the Sugar Land 95, Reginald Moore, it’s vast.”
The Harlem String Quartet will also be part of the piece.
“In some ways when we think about strings, we think about classical music; there’s a divide there,” he said. “We have to bridge that by always having our music side by side and intertwined.”
Scott said his earliest interests in music came from his mother, who was a classical and gospel pianist, and a piano teacher.
“She tried to teach me piano, and … after every church service I just wanted to play the drums,” he said. “My brother ended up learning how to play the piano by ear. When I told my father ‘I want to play drums’, he said ‘I’m not going to waste money on this if you’re not going to play it.'”
But Scott was serious. His mother found in his closet a makeshift drum set made out of shoeboxes and a jack-o’-lantern for a snare drum.
“I got in trouble though because I used records as cymbals,” Scott said. “So that was the bad part, but the good part was she saw my passion for it.”
He said it was still a couple of years before his dad put him in classes, but he said his father is still blown away by his success.
“To this day he’s still like ‘Wow, you’re endorsed by drum companies now.'” he said. “It’s a blessing to see what their support has done for me.”