Tom-Tom: An Epic of Music and the Negro


Writers: Shirley Graham Du Bois


Show Information

Number of Acts
First Produced
Historical/Biographical, Drama
Multiple Settings, Period
Time & Place
West Africa, Southern Plantation, Harlem, Harlem Renaissance, Slave Trade
Cast Size
Orchestra Size
Some Dance
Ideal for
Professional Opera, Ensemble Cast, Diverse Cast
Casting Notes
Mostly male cast
Includes young adult, adult, mature adult, child, early teen, late teen, elderly characters


In a village in West Africa, Voodoo is performing a ritual ceremony. A Girl had been designated as the sacrifice, but she was made unclean when a Boy was caught watching her bathe. In the middle of the ritual, the drumming of tom-toms in the distance catches their attention. But it is too late, the slavers are already on top of them. They capture everyone in the village, abducting them from their homes, and taking them to America.

Voodoo, the Girl, the Boy, and the Girl’s Mother have been sold to a southern plantation. They spend their days laboring, and the long dark nights singing spirituals and saying prayers for deliverance. They are desperate to escape, and Voodoo calls everyone to rise up against their masters. The Girl’s Mother thinks they will never escape, and rather than risk her daughter being abused by their masters, she decides to set her free by killing her. Just in time, a shout comes across the fields; the army from the north has arrived, and the people are free.

They travel to the cities in the north, settling in Harlem. Voodoo plans to build a ship and return to Africa, taking as many people as he can back to their homeland. His plans are sabotaged, when a Real Estate Man oversells shares in his company, and a riot breaks out, destroying the ship. Voodoo is blamed, and in the mob’s frenzy, someone strikes and kills him. The Boy takes up Voodoo’s tom-tom, and swears to tell his story throughout the world.

Incorporating the evolution of musical styles, from tribal chanting and drumming, through the creation of spirituals, and into the beginnings of jazz and cabaret to tell this epic story, Shirley Graham Du Bois’s opera Tom-Tom is making its well-deserved entrance into the operatic canon.

Lead Characters

Tom-Tom: An Epic of Music and the Negro guide sections