From Maxville to Vanport: A Celebration of Oregon’s Black History on Tour to Eugene, Bend and Ontario, Oregon

Songs and two short films for Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble with vocalist Marilyn Keller, in evening performances and daytime student concerts.

Supported by the Oregon Cultural Trust, the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s (PJCE’s) joyful concert of original songs and film shorts inspired by the stories of the multicultural populations of Maxville and Vanport, Oregon take place May 6th through 8th, 2020 in Eugene, Bend and Ontario. This joyful collection of songs and short films by composer Ezra Weiss, lyricist S. Renee Mitchell and filmmaker Kalimah Abioto, performed by vocalist Marilyn Keller with the PJCE celebrate Oregon’s shared history, focusing on two towns that were vital places of opportunity and refuge for African American Oregonians in the first half of the 20th century.

It isn’t widely known, but among the homesteaders, loggers, ranchers, and other hardy folks who were Oregon’s early settlers, African-Americans played vital roles. Maxville, a logging town built by the Bowman-Hicks Lumber Company in 1923, and Vanport, built by the city of Portland to house World War II shipyard workers in 1942, were both important places in the Great Migration of Black Americans. From Maxville to Vanport reveals and celebrates that heritage with honesty about racism and other challenges, while also offering a hopeful picture of Oregon’s past and future.

Songs like “Oregon Sounds Like Freedom” weigh the relative freedom of living Oregon against the hardship of staying in the Jim Crow South. MAXVILLE TO VANPORT may leave listeners wondering if the dangerous work falling logs in the woods of Wallowa County was worth the pain of leaving one’s birth community. Recordings of this music are available at and on Spotify.

The project invites the audience to ponder these questions through joyful music composed by Portland jazz composer and pianist Ezra Weiss. Writer, speaker, and “creative revolutionist” S. Renee Mitchell has written lyrics featuring legendary jazz vocalist Marilyn Keller. The songs will be interspersed with two short films with live musical accompaniment by Kalimah Abioto focused on the work that women did in Maxville, and a young boy playing in an imagined Vanport who encounters rushing waters that foreshadow the flood that destroyed the city in 1948.

PJCE Executive Director Douglas Detrick serves as artistic director for the project which employs a five-member creative team aiming to speak with the communities that are connected to these stories, not for them. The team drew heavily on records and research of Gwendolyn Trice, Executive Director of Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center, whose father worked at Maxville.