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Come, My Tan-Faced Children (2019)

for solo mezzo-soprano, piano | 00:05:40

by Melissa Dunphy | text by Walt Whitman

Other Arrangements

Come, My Tan-Faced Children was commissioned by Lyric Fest for premiere at "Carol of Words - Walt Whitman in Song" (Suzanne DuPlantis & Laura Ward, Artistic Directors), and written for Raehann Bryce-Davis.

Come, My Tan-Faced Children was commissioned in recognition of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Walt Whitman, but it is not a blind celebration of that poet’s legacy. Intended for performance by a Black mezzo-soprano, this song recontextualizes words from Whitman’s poem Pioneers! O Pioneers! in a way that the poet almost certainly never intended. Although Whitman campaigned against slavery, he held regressive racist views about African-Americans and did not believe they should be given full citizenship rights. Pioneers! O Pioneers! was Whitman’s call to arms for white pioneers in the American West to fight in the Civil War, but by removing the title and the last line of each stanza, and placing the words in the mouth of a woman of color, the song carries an entirely different meaning, especially now during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Listen to a podcast about the creation of this work here:

Press Quotes

“Come, My Tan-Faced Children” by Melissa Dunphy and text by Walt Whitman was premiered in 2019 by Bryce-Davis. This piece was written specifically for her voice by Dunphy, who studied multiple recordings and crafted a composition to honor her essence. Before she sang, Bryce-Davis said, “In these times, it is so important to be inclusive and to tell wondrous and unifying experiences that are different from what we’ve been seeing. I hope you enjoy this adventure.” [Opera Wire]

"'Come, My Tan Faced Children,' the adaptation of Walt Whitman's text, ignited a fire in my heart. I found that this musical call to arms tasks the reader with finding their own power and owning that discovery. Laden with imagery of strength and war, this text encouraged me to question when I feel most whole. The text concludes with "... I am rapt with love for all!" which I find quite interesting. There is a juxtaposition between power and vulnerability, which are two symbiotic values in my life. It is important that we understand our worth and acknowledge what empowers us, while engaging in wholehearted living." [soprano MaKayla McDonald]

"[Come, My Tan-Faced Children] is by turns lyrical and dissonant but above all dramatic and exciting, covering a wide vocal range. The excerpted texts evoke danger, weapons, and being in the vanguard — and of course, the song fits Bryce-Davis like a glove." [San Francisco Classical Voice]

Come, My Tan-Faced Children
Adapted from "Pioneers! O Pioneers!" by Walt Whitman
First published in Drum-Taps, 1865

Come, my tan-faced children,
Follow well in order, get your weapons ready;
Have you your pistols? have you your sharp edged axes?

For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We, the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend.

O resistless, restless race!
O beloved race in all! O my breast aches with tender love for all!
O I mourn and yet exult—I am rapt with love for all!

Artwork by Melissa Dunphy.


  • 09 Feb, 2024: Raehann Bryce-Davis, mezzo-soprano at Buckley Recital Hall, Amherst College, Amherst, MA
  • 27 Jan, 2024: Raehann Bryce-Davis, mezzo-soprano, Jeanne-Minette Cilliers, piano at Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, CA
  • 24 Jan, 2024: Raehann Bryce-Davis, mezzo-soprano, Jeanne-Minette Cilliers, piano at Terrace Theater, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C.
  • 02 Oct, 2022: Raehann Bryce-Davis, mezzo-soprano, Jeanne-Minette Cilliers, piano at Gilder Lehrman Hall at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York, NY
  • 28 Mar, 2021: Vanessa Isiguen & Anthony Kalil at Seasons Performance Hall, Yakima, WA
  • 09 Dec, 2020: Vanessa Iseguin, Nicholas Fox at Hampton Opera Center, Portland, OR
  • 30 Apr, 2020: Raehann Bryce-Davis at LA Opera Living Room Recital
  • 08 Nov, 2019: MaKayla McDonald and Steve Beck at Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
  • 03 Nov, 2019: MaKayla M. McDonald at Old North Church, Marblehead, MA
  • 02 Nov, 2019: MaKayla M. McDonald at Old West Church, Boston, MA
  • 09 Apr, 2019: Raehann Bryce-Davis (Lyric Fest) at The Church of St. Matthew & St. Timothy, New York, NY
  • 06 Apr, 2019: Raehann Bryce-Davis (Lyric Fest) at Academy of Vocal Arts, Philadelphia, PA


  • Calliope's Call Art Song and Vocal Chamber Music Call for Scores Winner 2019