What began as an 80th birthday present for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg turned into a musical tribute that’s just been released by Cedille Records called Notorious RBG in Song. The project is near and dear to the label, which was founded by her son James Ginsburg; his wife, Patrice Michaels is both the featured soprano, as well as the composer of one of the works on the recording, a cycle called The Long View: A Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Nine Songs.
“It all started with my mother’s 80th birthday, five years ago,” James Ginsburg says, “when my sister and I decided as a gift to commission three women composers to write songs on texts we chose that were various reflections on her life.” It covers both her personal and professional life, including “My Dearest Ruth,” a setting by composer Stacy Garrop of a love letter that her husband wrote on his deathbed; a pot roast recipe that describes kitchen disasters as experienced by a working lawyer; and an aria by composer Derrick Wang from his opera Scalia/Ginsburg. Patrice Michaels’ The Long View covers the breadth of Justice Ginsburg’s career. “The period of time that we’re describing, from about 1943, with a letter that Justice William O. Douglas wrote to the dean of a law school, asking if there were any competent women that could be called upon to act as clerks for the court… All the way up through just a couple of years ago, when Justice Ginsburg answered a question about what she thinks a president should look for in a Supreme Court justice.” The song called “Anita’s Story” describes the “conversion to feminism” of a law secretary tasked with typing her hand-written legal briefs. “It was such a beautiful way to express the amazing qualities of Ruth Bader Ginsburg that I began to wonder if there were enough documents that were of that high quality that could create a portrait of her in music.” Particular note is paid to her strong voice when she’s in the minority in a movement called “Dissenter of de Universe: Five Opinions and a Comment.”