“Dead King Mother”

Fire in the sky
no water in sight–
all I want is my man,
but he can’t be here passed tonight.


On the evening April 4th, 1968, upon hearing of the news of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Davu’s great-uncle, Clarence C. Underwood III, stood before family on Minneapolis’ north side and announced that he was going to kill the first white man that he saw–and he did. When encountered by the police he raised his hands a remarked, “shoot me, they killed my king.”

The last time Davu saw Clarence was at the funeral of the wife and mother of three he had left behind once he was committed to prison for murder. Reflecting on his sacrifice during the eulogy, Clarence remarked, “those were different times for our people.”

The event is near-forgotten as Twin Cities and U.S. history. “Dead King Mother,” a blues for female vocalist and ensemble, attempts to write the event into North Minneapolis and United States Civil Rights history and to provide an occasion for the Twin Cities community to remember and reflect. 

The ensemble features:
Sarah Greer, vocals
Devon Gray, bassoon
Omar Abdul Karim, flugelhorn
Benjamin Mansavage-Klein, tuba
Heather Barringer, vibraphone
Nikki Melville, piano
Patti Cudd, percussion
Pat O’Keefe, clarinet
Scott Fultz, flute

Excerpts from the February 24th premiere at Studio Z:

Schedule for Dead King Mother

50th Anniversary Event at Capri Theater (with expanded ensemble and panel discussion featuring Spike Moss, Kelly Hill (née Underwood), Davu Seru and Arleta Little): Wednesday April, 4th, 2018. Capri Theater, 2027 W Broadway Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55411 •  (612) 643-2024


Davu Seru, in partnership with Zeitgeist, is a fiscal year 2017 recipient of a Cultural Community Partnership Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature; and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

2 thoughts on ““Dead King Mother”

  1. Thanks for all of this, Davu. I am eager to hear your work. My King assassination story is so meager by comparison, but I want to say it here. I learned of King’s assassination from the lips of novelist Joseph Heller in Washington Hall at Notre Dame. I was there with my wife Elaine, a Chinese-American from Hawaii, in an upper balcony of that venue. We were stunned at the news (no internet then). Heller said after his announcement that he’d thought of cancelling his reading out of respect for Dr. King but decided to proceed and dedicate the reading to King and the issues, and to read the death of Snowden section from Catch-22, speaking of it, and King, in terms of King Lear (all I remember from that night). But I also remember Elaine’s, and my, shock and pain hearing two ND undergrads sitting behind us saying words to the effect that “someone finally gave King what he deserved.” All of which I wrote up once, on a Notre Dame blog about the event. After a while, some editor struck out my reference to that comment. So much work yet to be done. Thanks for your efforts in this work. Eager to hear your performance.

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