Renée Elise Goldsberry Performance Touches the Swarthmore Community

On Friday evening at 6pm and again at 8:30pm, over 300 hundred Swatties and community members filed into the Lang Concert Hall for a night of music with Hamilton’s Renée Elise Goldsberry. Professor Jonathan Kochavi introduced the Tony and Grammy award winning actress and singer, thanking the William J. Cooper Foundation for putting the show together. Goldsberry performed two concerts on Friday, September 21st, at the Concert Hall in Swarthmore’s Lang Music Building. She was originally set to perform one concert, which quickly sold out, ultimately resulting in the addition of another concert.

Goldsberry received enthusiastic applause as she entered the room accompanied by a pianist, drummer and guitarist. She performed a new set with a range of songs, from covers of famous ballads to her classics from the broadway musicals Hamilton and Rent.

Lecturer and professor Andrew Hauze and Manager of Concert Programming, Production, and Publicity Jenny Honig came up with the idea to bring Goldsberry to campus. The decision came about in response to “the interest and enthusiasm for musical theater we witnessed last year with the Theater and Music & Dance co-production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and a Fetter Chamber Music performance of the Act I Prologue from Into the Woods,” said Honig. While the organizers expected an overwhelmingly positive response from the community, they didn’t anticipate having to add an additional performance. In total, there were over 700 guests in attendance at Goldsberry's performances.

Goldsberry’s setlist included covers of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now,” The Impression’s “People Get Ready,” and Sarah Vaughn’s “Peter Gunn.” She prefaced her cover of Bob Dylan’s “Lord Protect My Child,” by explaining that she left her sick son to be at the concert. She also told a heart-wrenching story about her son being bullied by other children, lamenting the fact that so much happens to her children over which she has no control. She detailed that she copes with this phenomenon by praying for her children, telling the audience, “you are probably here because someone is praying for you every day.”  She left many in tears at the end of her rendition of the song.

Ian Palmer ‘22 said this was his favorite part of the show. “I loved ‘Lord Protect My Child,’ because it’s the most personal piece I’ve heard from her. I needed to hear it for myself, and I’m blessed that I heard it through the voice of Reneé Elise Goldsberry.”

Goldsberry continued with a musical interpretation of Maya Angelou’s poem “Human Family,” telling a story about how Goldsberry saw Angelou perform in her hometown of Houston, Texas, when she was a child. Goldsberry mentioned that she hopes to instill a lasting feeling of warmth in the crowd with her performances, as Angelou did to her that day. She also gave the crowd some intel about her upcoming project–an album of Maya Angelou’s poems set to music.

Goldsberry then performed “It’s Quiet Uptown,” “Satisfied,” and “Congratulations,” from Hamilton. The crowd sang along passionately to these popular songs which were met with thunderous applause. After this, she sang “Without You” from Rent, and ended with “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” during which the majority of the audience stood, danced, and clapped along.

While the performances were attended by hundreds of community members, many attendees noted that the event still felt “intimate.” This intimacy left a mark for Jendaiya Hill ‘22 who attended the 6pm concert, and was impressed by Goldsberry’s vocal range and ability to connect to the audience.

“It was a very intimate performance, and she as a performer is someone who is very intimate so she’ll share things in a way that’s super relatable,” said Hill. “I felt that was amplified by the fact that we weren’t in a stadium.”

Lauren Savo ‘20 felt connected to Goldsberry’s passion for music while watching the performance. She wrote to Voices, “I actually felt her love of music and her happiness extracted from that love when she was performing.” She added, “Hearing Renée explain her home life and how that influenced her musical expression taught me, again, that she and her music were one.”

Savo noted the memorable power and authenticity of the performance, stating “what was so powerful was that Renée Elise Goldsberry was not performing, she was just being, and that was my favorite part. Renée’s goal was not to entertain her audience, but rather to take us on a journey that made us feel how she felt. That evening, Renée, her music, and us, the audience, were one and that is why this performance was so powerful.”