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Revisiting Duke Ellington on a Turquoise Cloud

When classically trained jazz vocalist Candice Hoyes sings, she loses herself in the music, giving herself over to the communal experience of connecting with fellow musicians and the audience through storytelling.

“I’m not listening to myself. What you hear in my voice is what I hear in them playing. I’m thinking about what I’m saying,” says Hoyes, a soprano who recently released her debut album, “On a Turquoise Cloud.”

This Thursday, Jan. 26, Hoyes will join Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African American Studies for a conversation about Ellington’s legacy and its relevance to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Revisiting Duke Ellington in the Era of Black Lives Matter” will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the Ahmadieh Family Lecture Hall, Room 240, of the John Hope Franklin Center (2204 Erwin Road). It is free and open to the public. Parking is available in the clinic parking lot across the street.

The independent U.S. release, “On a Turquoise Cloud,” interprets the rare songs of Duke Ellington, which she unearthed through extended research in the Smithsonian’s National Archives. Many of the songs have not been recorded since the originals of the 1920s and 1930s.

Hoyes has called upon many influences to create her debut album. She studied sociology at Harvard before earning fellowships at both the Boston Conservatory and the Westminster Conservatory of Music. She later toured with the Jazz at Lincoln Center, performing alongside mentor Wynton Marsalis.

Why Duke Ellington?

“Because I have something highly personal that I can say through his compositions. I can embody it — heart, mind and voice. His compositions are so rich and fertile. It has a luxury to it, very shimmering and lush. I would also say it’s challenging – for me as a performer, but also for the audience,” Hoyes says.

The songs Hoyes found in the archive, such as ‘Creole Love Song,’ had been specifically written for a black woman’s voice. Ellington first recorded them with vocalist Adelaide Hall and then again later, for Kay Davis. Hoyes thought the classical style of singing was fascinating, but could not find the sheet music for the recordings because the songs had been out of circulation for so long and no one was singing them.

“When I found these songs, it was the first time I felt seen and acknowledged this fully in a piece of art. They embraced me,” Hoyes says. “I wanted the songs to live together because I think they make a statement. They are both classical and soulful and they are not contained by any one genre.”

Hoyes likes connecting with young people to show them that an artist can draw from all of his or her influences and they should value their individuality.

“I really am an educator and I’m enthusiastic about young people asserting their individual perspective,” Hoyes says. “It’s important to create with a sense of responsibility and with great care, but also without limiting yourself before you can stretch and share with the world.”