About From Maxville to Vanport

“Maxville to Vanport” is a multimedia concert of songs and short films with live music performed by the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble featuring vocalist Marilyn Keller. It tells the story of two historic blue collar Oregon towns with a special focus on the African American Oregonians that made them unique. With a joyful score of jazz, blues, R&B, and gospel-inspired music with music by Ezra Weiss, text by Renee Mitchell, video by Kalimah Abioto, and historical consultation by Gwendolyn Trice of Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center created in a community-guided process in 2018, this project celebrates a little-known part of Oregon’s history.

Maxville, a logging town built in 1923 in Wallowa County, and Vanport, built in 1942 just north of Portland for shipyard workers, were multicultural communities that housed workforces with significant African American and immigrant populations at a time when many Oregonians were openly hostile to them. From Maxville to Vanport looks honestly at the prejudice these people faced and celebrates their resilience, courage, and important contributions to Oregon. It tells stories of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the face of remarkable adversity; stories that deserve to be better understood by all Oregonians.

“The hardship and joys of this period of Oregon’s history, as viewed through the eyes of its earliest Black citizens, informs the work of Weiss and Mitchell. The music is austere and stately, evoking the landscape of the eastern part of the state and the period when Portland was more spacious.”
– Robert Ham, Portland Mercury, May 23, 2018

2018 Studio Recording “From Maxville to Vanport”


Photos by Kimmie Fadem, Just Dandy Photography.

Water – a film by Kalimah Abioto, music by Ezra Weiss

Produced by Kalimah Abioto, “Water” explores a young African American boy’s experience playing outdoors, like boys who lived in Vanport would have done in the 1940’s. He climbs and runs, plays marbles, tosses a baseball, and boxes. Soon, the boy sees rushing waters that foreshadow the Vanport Flood of 1948, and then we see the boy as a man, remembering rather than anticipating the flood of emotions he felt at the loss of his home.

Hear the conversations that guided “From Maxville to Vanport”

Our artistic team spoke with audiences in Portland and Wallowa County, where we asked the people directly connected to these histories to tell us how they felt about them and how they would want us to portray their experiences. That feedback along with extensive conversations with Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center Executive Director Gwendolyn Trice and other descendants and former residents of both Vanport and Maxville informed the creation of the piece. It was essential for their narratives to be portrayed authentically and respectfully in this project, and we are so grateful to have had so many participate so generously.

Be sure to subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts.