A WOMAN CALLED HARRIET is a musical created in the early 1990’s by Sean McLeod that was based on the original 1972 script Harriet Tubman written by the gracious Eula A. Lamphere of Weedsport, NY. Eula sought out a team to bring her manuscript to life in a musical. Her search led her to Sean McLeod after becoming familiar with his dramatic play on Harriet Tubman, “A Moment in History”. Mrs. Lamphere and the team offered Sean the commission and the undertaking of the conversion from play to musical. As he worked, Sean could not find a person to write the music, so he decided to write the music himself. After completion, he enlisted the help of Gospel Director and Conductor Frank Jones to help him orchestrate the music for piano. Sean’s music for the musical included the title track “Come on Harriet”, “I Got to Run To Be A Free Man”, “Going Across That Land”, and the song sang by the William Seward’s character, “Harriet’s Lullaby”! The musical’s opening number is Sean’s interpretation of the Negro National Anthem “We Will Overcome”, but as he heard it for Harriet Tubman’s journey in the song, “I Know That We Will Overcome.”
The Musical premiered June 24, 1993. A WOMAN CALLED HARRIET – A musical tribute chronicling the life and heroism of Harriet Tubman, the Moses of her People.
All of this work, footage, and music was thought lost in a 9 alarm fire at the New York Institute of Dance & Education, but a box of unmarked video tapes in 2013 uncovered by McLeod’s daughter provided the connection to the history and fingerprint to recreate the music. Astonishingly, 2013 happened to be the year of Harriet Tubman’s centennial.
The creation of the original musical was sponsored by the City of Auburn, the Auburn Bicentennial Committee, the Auburn Enlarged School District, Schweinfurth Memorial Arts Center, Fuller Bros, New York Dance Studio, and Cayuga Saving Bank.
In 2013 the Rochester Oratorio Society and Maestro Eric Townell helped revive two selections from the score with a hundred and fifty voice choir and the playing of Frank Jones once more for a concert at the Hochstein Music Hall in Rochester NY.
In 2016, upon hearing of the Tubman music, Joseph Hagen approached members of the Empire Film Music Ensemble who are also students at Eastman School of Music to join this movement to recapture this music in full scored fashion. A week later in a meeting in Rochester, NY the group’s leadership; Founder & Artistic Director Michael Staffeldt, Assistant Director and Personal Manager Adam Sadberry, Assistant Director and Resident Composer Max Berlin, Assistant Director and Arranger Joe Hagen, Assistant Director and Social Media Director Ben Escobar, and Assistant Director and Choral Organizer Kat Gorlova, met with Composer, International Producer, and American Choreographer Sean McLeod to discuss the revival of McLeod’s music from the lost 1993 musical. In the meeting McLeod explained a process that would morph the “A Woman Called Harriet” musical into a new presentational form entitled “A Soundtrack for Harriet Tubman”. This new approach would aid in the commemoration of Tubman’s legacy which is finally catching steam nationally. In addition to writing the original music, McLeod also grew up in the Auburn, NY church Harriet Tubman founded, as a child played nearly weekly at the Harriet Tubman Home (now slated to become a national park) after church services where picnics often happened while growing up. McLeod is also a direct descendant of a rescued slave carried to freedom by Tubman.
The Inaugural Harriet Tubman Freedom Music Festival launched as part of the 25th Anniversary of the New York Dance Festival, July 12, 2016 in Auburn, NY – the resting place of Harriet Tubman.