There’s a subversive joy in being black and achieving excellence in a field from which black people were traditionally excluded. For black classical musicians and composers, staking a claim in the classical genre means looking up to white composers – many of whom looked down on blackness. It means working creatively to contribute to the culture of a nation that stole the labor of their ancestors. It means giving the next generation of classical artists a more diverse group of people from whom to draw inspiration. [During Black History Month], it is important to not only acknowledge the significance of contemporary black contributions to classical music, but also acknowledge the achievements of those who paved the way. –Jarune Uwujaren, Contributing Writer
Andre Watts started his illustrious career by winning a piano competition at the age of 16 to play in the New York Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concert at Lincoln Center, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. He went on the perform extensively on the international stage, winning numerous prestigious awards and honors. Since 2004, Watts has been the Jack I. and Dora B. Hamlin Endowed Chair in Music at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. To learn more about Andre Watts visit here, and to find his recordings go here.
An Indianapolis native, Angela Brown made her Metropolitan Opera debut as the title role in Verdi’s Aida to rave reviews in 2000. Since then she has performed all over the world, from Paris to New Zealand to China. This coming April, Brown will reprise the role of Addie Parker in Yardbird at The Apollo in New York City and again for Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2017. To learn more about Angela Brown visit her website here, and to find her recordings go here.
Bobby McFerrin-Vocalist and Conductor
Bobby McFerrin Jr. is a 10-time Grammy winning singer who has blurred the distinction between pop music and fine art, goofing around barefoot in the world’s finest concert halls, exploring uncharted vocal territory, inspiring a whole new generation of a cappella singers and the beatbox movement. Recently McFerrin Jr. has collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma, Chick Corea, and the Vienna Philharmonic. McFerrin Jr. came from a musical family and has since went on to become a monumental figure in a cappella singing and genre-bending improvisation. To learn more about Bobby McFerrin Jr. visit here.
Florence Beatrice Price-Composer
Florence Beatrice Price was the first black woman to gain an international reputation as a composer. She studied at the American Conservatory of Music and the Chicago Musical College. Her compositions combined the melody and rhythms of black culture, black religious spirituality, and European romantic mood and techniques. In 1932 she won multiple prizes from the Wanamaker Foundation for Piano Sonata in E Minor and her most famous work, Symphony in E Minor. To learn more about Florence Beatrice Price visit here, and to find recordings of her compositions go here.
Kwamé Ryan is an internationally known conductor. At the age of fourteen he was enrolled in boarding school in England, where he studied conducting, piano, voice, violin and double bass, before moving on to study musicology at Gonville and Caius College at Cambridge University. Ryan has worked with the Seoul Philharmonic, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Dallas Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, and the Royal Scottish Symphony. To learn more about Kwamé Ryan visit here.
William Grant Still-Composer
William Grant Still was an incredibly influential African American composer. His most well-known work, Afro-American Symphony, infused with black musical signatures, was performed by the Rochester Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Howard Hanson, thus becoming the first work of its kind by an African American composer to be performed by a major symphony orchestra. Still went on to receive two Guggenheim fellowships and two Harmon Awards, he was also bestowed honorary doctorates from Wilberforce, Oberlin, the University of Arkansas, Bates College, Howard University, and the University of Southern California. To learn more about William Grant Still visit here, and to find recordings of his compositions go here.
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