Thursday, January 31, 2008

Black History Quiz On Classical Music

[Afro-American Symphony; Royal Philharmonic Symphony; Karl Kruger, conductor; Bridge 9086 (1999)]

Classical Music is an important historical category which is too often missing from quizzes on Black History., the website companion to AfriClassical, features a Black History Quiz On Composers and Musicians of African Descent The 51 questions are in three sections, and are progressively more challenging. Here are three sample questions and answers:

Instruction: Name the composer or musician for each question

Sample Questions:

1 Composer of the Afro-American Symphony

2 First African American Winner of Pulitzer Prize for Music

3 Violinist accompanied on piano by Ludwig van Beethoven

Sample Answers:

1 William Grant Still

2 George T. Walker

3 George Bridgetower

The Black History Quiz can also be used as a study aide; each question at the website is followed by a link to the web page on the composer or musician.

Black History Month Resource: “Classical music not all whites in wigs”

Celeste E. Whiting wrote an article entitled “Classical music not all whites in wigs” for the online publication “Our Michigan”. It explores the reasons for the creation of We posted it on Nov. 22, 2007. Today we post an excerpt again as a Black History Month Resource:

"It isn't right for people to grow up thinking that classical music is all white men in wigs." These are the words of Bill Zick, who wants people to know that minorities played an important role in the history of classical music.

Zick's website documents the history of minorities composing and performing classical music. His work combines a love of classical music with a commitment to racial equality.

Full Article

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008 in New York City Schools Music Resources for Black History Month

[Saint-Georges/Mozart String Quartets; Antares Quartet; Integral Classic INT 221.125 (2003)]

We are pleased to note that, the web companion of AfriClassical, has been listed among the Music Resources of New York City Schools for Black History Month. It can be found in Arts and Education Organizations

AfriClassical is gratified by the increasing use of the website as a Black History Month Resource, and as a Black History Resource for the entire school year, by public and parochial schools throughout the United States and Canada. We believe Black History & Classical Music have a great deal in common.

For example, Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799) was an Afro-French composer, violinist and conductor who was also France's finest fencer and the first Black officer in the French Army, serving heroically as Colonel of 1,000 volunteers of color.

Even earlier in Black History, a Black trumpeter named John Blanke served as a Royal musician for England's Kings Henry VII & VIII. Blanke's page at depicts him performing on horseback at the Westminster Tournament of 1511. A total of 52 Black composers and musicians are profiled at the website, which offers over 100 audio samples of their works.

Tania Justina León (b. 1943), Afro-Cuban Composer of Contemporary Music

Tania Justina León is a composer, conductor and professor of contemporary concert music. León was born in Havana, Cuba on May 14, 1943. Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma is a Professor of Music at Lawrence University and has specialized in African heritage in classical music for four decades. He has kindly made his research file on Tania León available to this website: “Of African, Chinese, Cuban, French, and Spanish heritage, she began studying piano at age four and attended Carlos Alfredo Peyrellade Conservatory (B.A., 1963) and the National Conservatory (M.A., 1964) in her native Havana, with additional degree work in business administration (1965).”

“She moved to New York in 1967, continuing her studies at New York University (B.S., 1971; M.S., 1973). Originally pianist for Arthur Mitchell’s dance classes, she joined him as co-founder in 1969 of the Dance Theater of Harlem and was the first music director (conductor and composer) for that ensemble from 1970 to 1978, including the tour to South Africa in 1992.”

Dr. De Lerma writes that Tania León conducted orchestras at prestigious festivals in Spoleto, Madrid, Marseille, Rome, Leipzig and South Africa, beginning in 1971. In the U.S., she conducted the Louisville Orchestra and the New World Symphony. León conducted The Wiz on Broadway in 1992, he adds: “In that year she conducted the Broadway production of The Wiz and her second consecutive year as conductor of WNET’s telecast series, Dance in America. In that same year she was appointed conductor of the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra’s Community Concert Series, performing also as that orchestra’s pianist and assistant conductor to Lukas Foss.”

In 1985, she joined the faculty at Brooklyn College (where she was named Tow Distinguished Professor in 2000), she has held residences at the Hamburg Musikschule, Harvard, Yale, Yaddo, Bellagio, and the Fromm Residency at Rome’s American Academy. For the 1997-1998 school year, she was named the Karel Husa Visiting Professor of Composition at the Ithaca College School of Music.”

The composer's website tells of her 2005 opera,
Scourge of Hyacinths: “In March 2005, Ms. León joined forces with Nobel Prize-winner Wole Soyinka with whom she collaborated on her award-winning opera Scourge of Hyacinths. Based on Soyinka's Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known, the new work celebrated the opening of the Shaw Center for the Performing Arts in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.”

Tania León has been honored with the American Academy of Arts and Letters Composers Award. Her website lists numerous awards, including these recent awards:
Guggenheim Fellowship Award, 2007. Music Composition; Honorary Doctorate in Music, SUNY Purchase, 2007; Distinguished Professor, City University of New York, 2006; and Ignacio Cervantes Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement, Cuban Cultural Center, 2006. Recent recordings mentioned at the composer's website include: "Polytopia: Music for Violin and Electronics - Mari Kimura, violin. Features León's Axon for violin and interactive computer. Bridge 9236 (released September 2007).”

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (1932-2004), African American Composer & Conductor

[Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (1932-2004): A Celebration; Chicago Sinfonietta et al.; Paul Freeman, Conductor; Cedille 90000 087 (2005)]

The African American composer and conductor Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson was born on June 14, 1932. Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma is a specialist in African heritage in classical music, and has kindly made his research file on Perkinson available to “Prior to his entrance in New York’s High School of Music and Art in 1945, he exhibited an interest in dance, studying with Pearl Primus and Ismay Andrews. Mentored in high school by his teacher Hugh Ross, he came to meet Igor Stravinsky. By the time of his graduation in 1949, when he won the LaGuardia Prize for music, he had begun composing.” Perkinson's 1948 composition And Behold won the High School for Music and Art Choral Competition.

Prof. De Lerma continues: “He majored in education for two years at New York University (1949-1951), then transferred to the Manhattan School of Music in 1951 (B.M., 1953; M.M., composition, 1954) where he was a composition major under Charles Mills and Vittorio Giannini, and conducting with Jonel Perlea.” “His interest in jazz was stimulated while enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music in association with classmates Julius Watkins, Herbie Mann, Donald Byrd, and Max Roach. He has been engaged as arranger and/or music director for Marvin Gaye, Lou Rawls, Barbara McNair, Donald Byrd, Max Roach (as pianist in the Roach Quartet, 1964-1965), Melvin Van Peebles, and Harry Belafonte.”

“In the summer of 1954 he studied conducting at the Berkshire Music Center. This was supplemented with additional study with Earl Kim at Princeton University from about 1959 to 1962. During his student days, he roomed with his good friends, Arthur LaBrew and Noel DaCosta. For three summers (1960, 1962, and 1963), he studied in the Netherlands with Dean Dixon and Franco Ferrara in conducting at the Netherlands Radio Union in Hilversum, spending part of the 1960 summer at the Mozarteum. He also studied with Dimitri Mitropoulos, Lovro von Matacic, Franco Ferrara, Dean Dixon and Clarence Williams.”

Perkinson also wrote the themes for the television shows Room 222 and Get Christie Love! Perkinson co-founded the Symphony of the New World, which he conducted from 1965-70 and directed for the 1972 season. Prof. De Lerma lists some of the many teaching, conducting and performing positions he held in his career: “1959-1962 Conductor, Brooklyn Community Symphony Orchestra; Faculty, Brooklyn College; 1961-1963 Conductor, New York Mandolin Orchestra; 1964-1965 Pianist, Max Roach Jazz Quartet; 1965-1970 Co-Founder and Associate Conductor of the Symphony of the New World (serving as its Director for the 1972-1973 season); 1966-1967 Music Director, Jerome Robbins’ American Theater Lab; 1968-1969, 1978 Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; 1997-1998 Indiana University”.

From 1998 until his death in 2004, Perkinson was affiliated with the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago. In the year following the death of Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, a wide-ranging overview of his music was issued on Coleridge- Taylor Perkinson (1932-2004): A Celebration, Cedille 90000 087 (2005). Paul Freeman conducts the Chicago Sinfonietta and members of the New Black Music Repertory Ensemble. The works include Sinfonietta No. 1 for Strings (15:17), Grass: Poem for Piano, Strings & Percussion (16:08), Quartet No. 1 based on “Calvary” (Negro spiritual) (17:04), Blue/s Forms for Solo Violin (7:26), Lamentations: Black/Folk Song Suite for Solo Cello (15:38), Louisiana Blues Strut (A Cakewalk) (2:49) and Movement for String Trio (3:56). The compositions are in chronological order, beginning with a work written in 1954-55 and ending with one produced in 2004.

Amadeo Roldán (1900-1939), Afro-Cuban Composer of Percussion Works

[Rítmicas; Tambuco Percussion Ensemble; Camerata de las Américas; Ricardo Gallarda, Conductor; Dorian 90245 (1997)]

Amadeo Roldán was an Afro-Cuban composer, violinist, conductor and professor who is profiled at He was born in Paris to Cuban parents on July 12, 1900. Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma is Professor of Music at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. He has been writing about African heritage in classical music for four decades, and has generously made his research entry on Amadeo Roldan available to this Website. Prof. De Lerma points out that Roldán's full name was Amadeo Roldán y Gardes. He also tells us Roldán was only 5 years old when he began studying the violin.

Roldán graduated from the Madrid Conservatory in 1916 after studying music theory and violin. He later took private lessons in composition from Conrado el Campo, according to Prof. De Lerma. The young musician also played the violin on tour in Spain. The research entry of Dominique-René de Lerma continues: “He moved to Havana in 1919 and became a student of Pedro Sanjuan. In 1924 he became concertmaster of Havana's Orquesta Filarmonica and, following the death of Sanjuan, its conductor.”

Roldán's promotion to conductor of the Orquesta Filarmonica occurred in 1932.
Suite de La Rebambaramba (8:56) and Rítmica V (2:42) were recorded on CD by the New World Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, Argo 436 737 2 (1993). In the liner notes Simon Wright appraises Amadeo Roldán's role in the classical music of Cuba: “An enthusiastic conductor and composer, Roldán put 'serious' Cuban music on the map by primarily bringing Afro-Cuban rhythms and sounds to the concert hall. They were the inspiration behind the ballet La Rebambaramba (1827-28), based on a scenario by Alejo Carpentier depicting Havana's low-life on the day of Epiphany in 1830.”

This recording has been reissued as Latin American Classics, Eloquence 467603 (2002).
The Tambuco Percussion Ensemble has recorded Roldán's
Rítmica V (2:14) and Rítmica VI (2:00), both composed in 1930, on the CD Rítmicas, Dorian 90245 (1997). The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music says of Roldan: “He was the leading Cuban musical figure of his day; as a composer he was the first to integrate Afro-Cuban elements into European-oriented concert music, and among the first to compose works for percussion only.”

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James Price Johnson, African American Composer & Stride Pianist Born Feb. 1, 1894

[Victory Stride: The Symphonic Music of James P. Johnson; The Concordia Orchestra; Marin Alsop, Conductor; Music Masters 67140 (1994)]

Co-author of The Charleston, stride pianist and composer of jazz and classical music

The James P. Johnson Foundation maintains a website with numerous resources including Talents of James P. Johnson Went Unappreciated, an obituary by John Hammond in Down Beat Magazine, December 28, 1955,

The African American composer and pianist James Price Johnson, profiled at, was born on Feb. 1, 1894 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma, Professor of Music at Lawrence University, wrote the liner notes for the CD Got the Saint-Louis Blues: Classical Music in the Jazz Age, Clarion CLR907 (2004), which includes a performance of Johnson's Yamekraw: A Negro Rhapsody (15:49) by pianist Paul Shaw and the VocalEssence Ensemble conducted by Philip Brunelle. Prof. De Lerma recounts: “At a very early age, James Price Johnson (1894-1955) began piano lessons, first under the highly disciplined instruction of Bruno Gianinni, and later in New York City with Eubie Blake.”

Johnson first won public recognition as a jazz composer and pianist, as the Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music relates: “In jazz he was the foremost exponent of the stride piano style, and his composition Carolina Shout, recorded in 1921, became the test piece for younger musicians. From 1921 he accompanied blues singers, including recordings (1927-30) and the film St. Louis Blues with Bessie Smith. In musical theater, Cecil Mack and he wrote Runnin' Wild, and their hit song The Charleston started that dance craze (1923)."

Pianist Leslie Stifelman and The Concordia Orchestra, conducted by Marin Alsop, have explored Johnson's symphonic works on a CD, Victory Stride: The Symphonic Music of James P. Johnson, Music Masters 67140 (1994).

The liner notes were written by Scott E. Brown, author of the biography
James P. Johnson: A Case of Mistaken Identity, from Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. (1986). Brown describes Johnson as "an astounding musician" who was called "the Father of Stride Piano", an intermediate style between ragtime and jazz.

Among Johnson's students, Brown recounts, were Fats Waller and Duke Ellington. Johnson also wrote all or part of 16 musicals during the 1920s. Brown writes that when the Depression ended the era of The Charleston, Johnson resumed his music studies: “Moving his family to the then-fashionable neighborhood of Jamaica, Long Island, he undertook serious private study of music theory, harmony, composition, counterpoint, instrumentation, and orchestration.” “Despite little recognition and limited encouragement, James P Johnson would write two symphonies, a piano and a clarinet concerto, two ballets, two one-act operas and a number of sonatas, suites, tone poems and a string quartet.”

Prof. De Lerma explains the origin of Johnson's Yamekraw: A Negro Rhapsody, “Written in celebration of a black community on the outskirts of Savannah, Yamekraw: A Negro Rhapsody (1927) was first performed by Fats Waller in a Carnegie Hall concert organized by William C. Handy. It seems most likely that Johnson's relative inexperience in orchestral writing prompted him to ask William Grant Still to rework the score in 1928.” Dr. De Lerma adds: “His first stroke in 1940 did not prevent him from presenting a concert of his own works at Carnegie Hall in 1944, but a much more serious stroke occurred in 1951, confining him to bed until his death.”

James Price Johnson died in New York City on Nov. 17, 1955.

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Sphinx Commissioning Consortium to Highlight Composers of Color

[The Harlem Quartet and Sphinx Chamber Orchestra perform Delights and Dances by Michael Abels at Carnegie Hall in September 2007.]

The Sphinx Organization announces a partnership to commission new classical works of Black and Latino composers:

Thirteen Orchestras Join Sphinx to Promote Diversity in Classical Music

The Sphinx Organization, the national non-profit organization dedicated to building diversity in classical music, has announced a new initiative aimed at bringing more music by Black and Latino composers to the concert hall. Sphinx will administer the new initiative, which is called the Sphinx Commissioning Consortium (SCC), and will partner with thirteen prominent orchestras.

Currently, compositions by Black and Latino composers account for less than 1% of classical music performed each year. As a group, the SCC will commission a new orchestral work from a Black or Latino composer annually. Each member orchestra will perform the commissioned piece during the concert season following its completion. Through their joint financial commitments, the SCC will have resources exceeding $70,000 each year to cover commissioning fees along with other costs associated with each new work.

Aaron Dworkin, founder and president of the Sphinx Organization, announced the new initiative at the Sphinx Competition Finals Concert in Detroit on Sunday evening. “Sphinx is proud to partner with these leading organizations, which represent a broad cross-section of our field,” said Dworkin. “This collaboration is a truly historic undertaking.”

In addition to Sphinx, the consortium includes thirteen orchestras from across the country. The founding members of the Consortium include the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Sinfonietta, our nation’s most diverse orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Grand Rapids Symphony, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Richmond Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Virginia Symphony Orchestra, and New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy.

The Sphinx Organization was established in 1996 by Aaron Dworkin with a mission to increase Black and Latino participation in music schools, as professional musicians, as classical music audiences, and to administer youth development initiatives in underserved communities through music education. In addition to the annual Sphinx Competition for young Black and Latino string players, the organization’s educational programs reach over 35,000 students across the country annually.

The Sphinx Organization envisions a world in which classical music reflects cultural diversity and plays a role in the everyday lives of youth. Its website is [Aaron P. Dworkin is profiled at]

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Julius P. Williams, African American Composer & Conductor

The African American composer, conductor and professor Julius Penson Williams was born in the Bronx, New York City, in 1954. He was educated at Lehman College of the City University of New York, Hartt School of Music and the Aspen School of Music. Williams has held faculty posts at several colleges and universities and is now Professor of Composition and Conducting at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He is also a co-director of the Videmus Recording Company. His website is and he is profiled at

Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma is Professor of Music at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. He has generously made his research entry on Julius Penson Williams available to this Website. Here is an excerpt on the conducting career of Williams: “His conducting debut was in Carnegie Hall, at the 1989 initial concert of the Symphony Saint Paulia. He has served as assistant conductor under Lukas Foss of the Brooklyn Philharmonic and American Symphony Orchestra. Artistic director of Spain’s Costa del Sol Festival. Conductor and composer of Connecticut Arts Awards on PBS and the Nutmeg Ballet Company. Artistic Director of the New York State Summer School of the Arts choral section and President at the University of Vermont. Guest at the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra in Yugoslavia. On faculty at Berklee.”

Williams conducted the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic's recording of his works
Is It True? (3:36) and Meditation from the Easter Celebration (5:54) with tenor Everett McCorvey on Troy 104 (1994). The liner notes observe: “The Cantata Easter Celebration was written in early 1993, as part of Williams' residency at Shenandoah University and Conservatory (Winchester, Virginia). There he served as Visiting Associate Professor and Jesse Ball duPont Scholar (academic year 1992-93). The Cantata is scored for orchestra, chorus, gospel choir, tenor, and dancers, and was premiered at Shenandoah, April 11, 1993.” “In addition to his symphonic compositions, Williams has written in a variety of mediums and genres, including dance, musical theater, opera and movies.”

The composer's Web site lists several performances of his works, including these: “He has served as Composer-in-Residence of Connecticut’s Nutmeg Ballet Company, which premiered his ballet,
Cinderella. His Norman Overture was premiered by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Zubin Mehta. The opera Guinevere was performed at the Aspen Music Festival and at Dubrovnik Music Festival in Croatia. He is composer of the score for the film What Color is Love?, the score for the play In Dahomey and the choral piece A Journey to Freedom for the Reston Choral and Festival Orchestra in Virginia. The moving tribute to the victims of September 11, In Memorium was premiered by the Detroit Symphony. Maestro Williams has served as conductor-composer of the Connecticut Arts Award for Public Television. His film score for Lifetime TV’s Fighting for our Future won the Gracie Allen Documentary Award in 2003.

Washington Post Launches The with AfriClassical On Its Blogroll

AfriClassical is delighted to find itself on the Blogroll of the new Internet magazine of The Washington Post and Newsweek which appeared today, The Root, The Chairman of the Post Co. planned the project with Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. is designed to be a political magazine for Black readers. AfriClassical is returning the favor by adding to its own blogroll. AfriClassical is a companion to the website, which profiles 52 Black composers and musicians, and offers over 100 audio samples.

George T. Walker, Jr. (b. 1922): First African American Pulitzer Prize Winner in Music

George T. Walker, Jr. maintains an extensive Website of his own, The site is organized in several sections and articles come from more than a dozen sources. Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma, Professor of Music at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, has been writing about African heritage in classical music for four decades. He has generously made his research entry on George Walker available to

“His father
was a physician who was born in Kingston, Jamaica and immigrated to the U.S. He graduated from Temple University Medical School in Philadelphia. Walker's mother was Rosa King, a native of Washington, D.C.”

George Theophilus Walker, Jr. was born in Washington, D.C. June 27, 1922. The boy was 5 when he began to study piano with his mother, according to the research entry. When Walker was 14 years old, he gave his first public performance on the piano at Howard University, his Website explains, and also graduated from Dunbar High School. Prof. De Lerma continues: “He studied music in the Junior Department of Music at Howard University.” “A scholarship enabled Walker to enroll in Oberlin college at age 15, in 1937. David Moyer was his piano professor, and Arthur Poister taught him organ. Walker was 18 when he received his B.M. Degree, leading his Conservatory class in honors, in 1941.” “At the Curtis Institute of Music, he studied piano with Rudolf Serkin and Mieczyslaw Horszowski, and chamber music with William Primrose and Gregor Piatigorsky.”

We learn from Walker' Website that he also studied composition at Curtis with Rosario Scalero. It adds: “He graduated from the Curtis Institute with Artist Diplomas in piano and composition in 1945, becoming the first black graduate of this renowned music school.” In the year of his graduation from Curtis, Walker won the Youth Auditions in Philadelphia, as Prof. De Lerma details:“ It was in 1945 that he won the Youth Auditions in Philadelphia. He made his recital debut at Town Hall in 1945 and orchestral debut as pianist in the third concerto of Rachmaninoff with the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Ormandy.” The young pianist then toured actively in the U.S. and Europe. Prof. De Lerma continues: “When in France he studied with Clifford Curzon and Robert Casadeus, and was one of the few private students of Nadia Boulanger at the American Academy, which he first attended in the Summer of 1947 as a student of piano.”

“He received the Doctor of Musical Arts Degree and the Artist Diploma in 1956 from the Eastman School of Music, which institution presented him with with the Alumnus Citation in 1961.” George Walker recounts the circumstances of his studies in Paris in 1957 and 1958: “I studied composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris on a Fulbright Fellowship in 1957. I was again at the American Academy in Fontainebleau on a scholarship in 1958.”

The faculty positions held by George Walker are summarized by Prof. De Lerma: “His earlier teaching career included Dillard University, the Dalcroze School of Music, the New School for Social Research, Smith College, and the University of Colorado-Boulder. Subsequently he taught at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, the University of Delaware, and in 1969 joined the faculty of Rutgers University-Newark, where he was departmental chair and designated Distinguished Professor in 1976. Walker received a second Guggenheim Fellowship in the 1970s. He retired in 1992.

The research entry lists numerous fellowships, grants and awards. George Theophilus Walker, Jr. won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1996. Prof. De Lerma notes the award in a survey article in Africana Encyclopedia: “In 1996, late in his long career, he became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize in music, for Lilacs, a piece for voice and orchestra.” Although George Walker was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for music during his lifetime, Prof. De Lerma notes that it was posthumously awarded to Scott Joplin in 1976. In February 1987 Bruce Duffie had an extended interview with George T. Walker, Jr. which can be read at Duffie's Website,

With the exception of two anthologies, Walker says, all of his music is currently published by MMB Music in St. Louis, Missouri. About 120 titles are listed at:

Margaret A. Bonds, African American Composer of “Troubled Water”

Margaret Allison Richardson Bonds was an African American composer, pianist and musical director who was born in Chicago, Illinois on March 3, 1913. Dominique-René de Lerma is Professor of Music at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. For four decades he has specialized in African heritage in classical music. He has kindly made his research entry on Margaret Bonds available to this Website. We learn from it that her parents separated two years after her birth, and divorced two years later: “She was born in Chicago as Margaret Jeanette Allison Majors to Dr. Monroe Majors and Estella C. Bonds...”. “Her parents separated in 1915 and, when her parents divorced in 1917, her mother resumed her birth name, assigning this also to her daughter.”

Prof. De Lerma describes Estella Bonds as: “...a church organist who began teaching her daughter piano when the child was five.” At the age of 13, Margaret Bonds started to learn composition from two up and coming African American composers, and also learned piano from one of them. She studied at a music school and participated in the youth section of a national organization of African American musicians, according to Prof. De Lerma: “By the time she had begun the study of composition in 1926 with Chicago newcomers William Dawson and Florence Price (with whom she also studied piano), she was a charter member of the Junior Music Division of the National Association of Negro Musicians, and had been a student at the Coleridge-Taylor Music School, where her mother and Tom Theodore Taylor served on the faculty."

Bonds entered Northwestern University at 16, in 1929. The research entry names her faculty members for piano and composition: “In 1929, she enrolled at Northwestern University where her piano teacher was Emily Boettiche Bogue and her composition teachers were Arnie Oldburg and Dean Carl Beecher. A Rosenwald Scholarship was awarded for graduate study at Northwestern in 1933, when she had been awarded the B.M. degree.”

Prof. Rae Linda Brown wrote the liner notes for the CD Black Diamonds: Althea Waites Plays Music By African-American Composers, Cambria 1097 (1993). She describes the importance of the Wanamaker Prize Bonds won in 1932 for her composition Sea Ghost: “Margaret Bonds (1913-1972) achieved national recognition when she won the Wanamaker Prize in 1932 for the song Sea Ghost, the same contest in which her teacher, Florence Price, received her coveted awards.”

“Bonds played a concerto by Florence Price with the Chicago Women's Orchestra in 1934, in a concert broadcast by CBS Radio: “She was pianist with the Chicago Women’s Orchestra the next year in the D minor concerto of Florence Price, conducted by Ebba Sundstrom and broadcast on CBS. She now had her M.M. degree from Northwestern (1934) and had already performed John Alden Carpenter’s concertino with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933, with Frederick Stock as conductor.”

The African American poet Maya Angelou wrote the liner notes for the solo piano CD of William Chapman Nyaho, Senku: Piano Music by Composers of African Descent, Music Masters 1091 (2003): “It was during her time at Northwestern University that she became the first African American to solo with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933.”

Prof. De Lerma tells us: “Bonds had wanted to study with William Grant Still and approached Nadia Boulanger for lessons. Neither hope was realized. Boulanger did not accept her because she felt she would be unable to provide proper guidance.” “The social circle of the Bonds’ home and later when she was an adult included composers Will Marion Cook, William Dawson, Kermit and Dorothy Rudd Moore, Noble Sissle, and Féla Sowandé, choral conductor Hall Johnson, singers Betty Allen, McHenry Boatright, Lillian Evanti, Roland Hayes, Hortense Love, and Abbie Mitchell, writers Arna Bontemps, Langston Hughes, and Countee Cullen, pianist Armenta Adams, educator Nematilda Ritchie Woodard.

Maya Angelou continues her description of the activities of Bonds after finishing her studies at Northwestern University: “Upon graduation, Margaret Bonds worked in Chicago performing, composing and collaborating with writer and poet, Langston Hughes in cantatas, musicals and song cycles.” Prof. De Lerma elaborates further on this stage of Bonds' career: “She met Langston Hughes in 1936 and toured Wisconsin and Iowa with singer Katherine Van Buren, while studying orchestration with Albert Nölte. Both this season and the next, she worked in the Detroit theater of Elsie Roxborough and joined Katherine Dunham in the production of William Grant Still’s La guiablesse. For the musical education of Black youth in Chicago, she founded the Allied Arts Academy.”

“She moved to New York City in 1939 and served as editor for the publisher, Clarence Williams. It was this year that she married William Richardson. Her repeat performance of Carpenter’s concertino was broadcast with the WNYC orchestra in 1941.” When Bonds moved to New York City she intended to study at Juilliard. The research entry explains that she received a scholarship from Roy Harris, and enrolled in 1941. It identifies these individuals as her professors: “...Roy Harris (who provided her with a scholarship), Robert Starer, Martha Anderson, Emily Boetticher Bogue, and Walter Gossett.”

Bonds was active as a composer, soloist and member of a duo piano team in the 1940s. Prof. De Lerma writes: “ 1942, Hortense Love performed Bonds’ 5 Creek-freedmen. She had meanwhile been partner in a duo piano team with Frances Kraft Reckling, Calvin Jackson, and Gerald Cook (touring and broadcasting on WNYC with Cook in 1944) and as soloist appeared with The Chicago Women’s Symphony Orchestra, the Scranton Symphony, the New York City Symphony Orchestra, with recitals in Canada, Orchestra Hall (Chicago), radio broadcasts in New York and Hollywood, and performances in night clubs.”

“Concerts dedicated totally to her music were offered in Detroit in 1963 and in Washington in 1967. That year she received the Alumni Merit Award from Northwestern University and Mayor Richard Daley declared 31 January to be Margaret Bonds Day.” Prof. De Lerma adds that Bonds was also honored by the National Council of Negro Women (1962) and by ASCAP (1964-1966).

Dominique-René de Lerma says Margaret Bonds taught theater in both Harlem and Los Angeles: “Prior to her move in 1967 to Los Angeles, she taught at Harlem’s American Theatre Wing and wrote for the Los Angeles Jubilee Singers. The year after her arrival in California, she taught at the Inner City Institute and Repertory Theater, remaining until her death.”
The complete essay on Margaret Bonds can be found at her page at

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Florence Price (1887-1953): First Black Woman To Have A Symphony Performed By A Major Orchestra

[Symphony No. 3; Mississippi River Suite; The Oak; The Women's Philharmonic; Apo Hsu, Conductor; Koch 3 75182H1 (2001)]

Audio Sample: Professor Dominique-René de Lerma of Lawrence University has generously made his research on Florence Beatrice Smith Price available to Price was the first African American woman to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra. Marian Anderson was among many singers who used her arrangements of Negro spirituals. Price was born and raised in Little Rock, where her mother, Florence Gulliver Smith, owned a restaurant, and her father, James H. Smith, was the city's only dentist. The child's first piano teacher was her mother.

Dr. De Lerma writes: “In elementary school she was a student of Charlotte Andrews Stephens. Her first work was published when she was 11.” He continues: “In 1903, having graduated from Capitol High School, she entered the New England Conservatory (B.M., 1906, organ and piano performance) studying with Frederick S. Converse and George Whitefield Chadwick (music theory), and Henry M. Dunham (organ), starting to think seriously about composition.”

Price taught for a year at Cotton Plant-Arkadelphia in Arkansas, and served on the faculties of Shorter College (1906-1910) and Atlanta's Clark University (1910-1912), before returning to Little Rock to teach music privately and compose. “In 1912 Florence B. Price married Thomas J. Price, an attorney in Little Rock. Prof. De Lerma tells us: Little Rock had been a comfortable city for Black residents, but racial problems began to develop and she moved with her husband, attorney Thomas J. Price, and their two daughters to Chicago in 1927 or 1928.” The marriage did not endure, and Price and her children found themselves in difficult financial circumstances for several years.

Fantasie Nègre (8:56) is a work which is found on the CD Leonarda 339 (1995). It is performed by Helen Walker-Hill, piano, and Gregory Walker, violin. Walker-Hill describes it: “Composed in 1929, it is her first ambitious work for piano, and combines Negro melodic and rhythmic idioms with classical European forms and techniques, presenting ternary and variation forms in florid fantasia-style. The theme is the spiritual Sinner, Please Don't Let This Harvest Pass.”

The composer turned to competitions as a way to achieve recognition. After numerous submissions her efforts were finally rewarded in 1932 with multiple Wanamaker prizes. Rosalyn Story writes: “In the widely revered Wanamaker Competition in 1932, she won four prizes, including the top prize for a symphonic composition. (It was a banner year for Black women composers: Bonds, Price's student, also competed and won a prize.) Frederick Stock, then conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, presented Price's Symphony in E Minor for the Chicago World's Fair (Century of Progress Exposition) in 1933. It was the first time a symphony written by a Black woman had been performed by a major symphony orchestra.” Critics raved unanimously.

Pianist Althea Waites has recorded works of Florence Price on Black Diamonds: Althea Waites Plays Music by African American Composers, Cambria CD 1097 (1993). The major composition is her Sonata in E Minor (25:14). It was written in 1932 and won a first-place Wanamaker prize in its category. Rae Linda Brown says in the liner notes: “The Sonata is a large-scale, expansive work in the romantic tradition.” Florence Price undertook graduate studies at two schools in Chicago, after she and her family settled there. Prof. De Lerma explains that her marriage came to an end about 1935, forcing her to move in with one of her students, Margaret Allison Bonds, and to support herself as a music teacher, composer, orchestrator and organist.

A second symphony has been lost. Price's Symphony No. 3 in C Minor (29:28) was successfully premiered in 1940 by the Michigan WPA Symphony, conducted by Valter Poole, and has been recorded by The Women's Philharmonic under Apo Hsu, Conductor. The CD is Koch 3 7518 2H1 (2001). Rosalyn Story describes the work: “Composed in the late summer of 1940 when Price was 52 years old, the piece reflects the romantic mood and textures associated with other writers of the time, including the popular Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, and projects the folk pathos of Black southern life.”

Prof. De Lerma reports that the commissions received by Florence B. Price included one from the British conductor now known as Sir John Barbirolli, for a performance in the United Kingdom. The research file gives this information on the death of Florence B. Price: “She died of a stroke in Chicago, 3 June 1953.”

Africana Encyclopedia assesses Price's output as follows: “Price composed over three hundred works, and her songs and arrangements were performed by some of the most admired voices of her day, including Marian Anderson. Her symphonies and chamber works were famous for incorporating the melodies from Negro spirituals, and her work is considered an important part of the New Negro Arts Movement.” Prof. De Lerma has compiled a Works list of hundreds of items, and an extensive Bibliography, both of which are found at the Florence Price page of

Saturday, January 26, 2008

New York Times On Gabriel Banat, Biographer of Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799)

A Swashbuckling Violinist, Fresh From the 1700s
By Roberta Hershenson
Published January 6, 2008
Dobbs Ferry

ONE of the most fascinating figures of the 18th century was the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a composer, violinist, fencing champion and military hero whose fame spanned continents. That he was black, born in 1745 to a white planter and his slave mistress in Guadeloupe, not only shaped his life in France but has fed a growing interest in him today.

Though Saint-Georges’s life reads like a Hollywood screenplay, it was his musical talent that most interested Gabriel Banat, a concert violinist and musicologist whose biography, “The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow,” was published by Pendragon Press in 2006.

“He’s not a Mozart, but his innovative violin technique makes him a bridge between Italian virtuosos like Vivaldi and Locatelli and Beethoven in his violin writing,” Mr. Banat said in an interview in his home here. “He did a lot for the violin in bringing Italian virtuoso technique to the great masters.”

Full Article

Friday, January 25, 2008

Nokuthula Ngwenyama (b. 1976), American Violist of Afro-Asian Heritage

The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society presents Violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama, Cellist Sophie Shao and the Miami Quartet in a concert on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 at 3:00 p.m. At the Pennsylvania Convention Center Auditorium, Room 114.

Nokuthula Ngwenyama is an acclaimed American violist and violinist of Zimbabwean-Japanese heritage. She is also a Visiting Assistant Professor of Music whose recorded repertoire will soon be enlarged by two forthcoming releases she has completed on the EDI Records label. Her new website is

"Thula", as she is known to her friends, was born in Southern California on June 16, 1976. Her parents divorced when she was quite young, and she was raised in the home of a family friend. Thula's earliest musical instruments were the piano and the violin. She faced resistance at first, as she explains at her original website,

"My father, a Ndebele man from Zimbabwe, discouraged me from the start. 'Why are you playing this white man's music?' he would ask. He didn't understand that this kind of music spoke to me in a way not affected by race."

Nokuthual Ngwenyama is profiled at

Susquehanna University: Winter convocation celebrates legacy

The following are excerpts from an article, published Jan. 25, 2008, on a winter convocation celebrating the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in “The Crusader Online, The Campus Voice of Susquehanna University”:

By Rachel Konopacki
News Editor
“Award-winning writer and composer James McBride was the featured speaker at Susquehanna's second annual winter convocation to celebrate the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, Jan. 21.

McBride's speech, titled 'Our Common Dream,' kicked off the festivities for this daylong celebration at 11 a.m. in Weber Chapel Auditorium.”

“In addition to McBride's and Harris' speeches, musical selections from Susquehanna's brass ensemble, string orchestra and chorale also accompanied the celebration. The brass ensemble, directed by Eric Hinton, assistant professor of music, opened and closed the convocation with works composed by William Grant Still.

'I was looking for music from African American composers, and [Still] is probably one of the most famous,' Eric Hinton said. 'The mood of these pieces seemed to fit the day.'

The ensemble played Still's 'Fanfare for the 99th Fighter Squadron' at the opening and closed the program with the first and third movement, of his piece 'From the Delta.'

The string orchestra, conducted by Jennifer Sacher Wiley, associate professor of music, then performed the second movement from Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson's 'Generations Sinfonietta No. 2.'

Wiley said she was looking for significant works for the string orchestra by African American composers and that Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson had written some beautiful pieces for strings.

The Susquehanna University Chorale also performed a selection arranged by the black composer William L. Dawson titled 'There is a Balm in Gilead.'"

Celso Machado, Afro-Brazilian Classical Guitarist Born Jan. 27, 1953

Two days before his birthday, Celso Machado can be heard today, Jan 25, 2008, 8:00 PM at the Celebrity Series of Boston, Sanders Theater, Boston. He will play two concerts on his birthday and three more from Jan. 31-Feb. 5, 2008. See the schedule below.

Celso Machado is an Afro-Brazilian composer, guitarist, lyricist and singer. The works he writes and performs are played by guitarists in both classical and world music genres. He was born in Ribeiro Preto, Brazil on January 27, 1953. At age seven he began performing in street bands. Machado first performed in Canada in 1986; he moved there in 1989. His many CDs consist of music composed by himself and others. His recordings, compositions and awards are listed at his Web site:

Celso Machado is profiled at

Jan 27, 2008, 2:00 PM Guitar Marathon Performance, New York Guitar Festival, New York, NY
Jan 27, 2008, 8:00 PM 92 St. Y, Tisch Centre for the Arts, Kaufmann Concert Hall, New York, NY
Jan 31, 2008, 8:00 PM Northwestern University, Pick-Staiger Hall, Evanston, IL
Feb. 1, 2008, 8:00 PM University Musical Society, Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor, MI
Feb 5, 2008, 7:30 PM University of Central Arkansas, Donald W. Reynolds Performance Hall Conway, AR

Thursday, January 24, 2008

John McLaughlin Williams, African American Conductor, Records Flagello & Rosner on Naxos CD

[Flagello/Rosner: Missa Sinfonica; Symphony No. 5; National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine; John McLaughlin Williams, conductor; Release date Feb. 26,2008]

AfriClassical is pleased to relay news from conductor and violinist John McLaughlin Williams:

“Just letting you know I have a new recording out soon on the Naxos label. Amazon link here:

You can find almost everything I've done on Amazon except my Grammy winning cd and the St. Georges recording. See the below links for more information. (At Naxos, look in the Artists Gallery, Conductors.) Thanks for your great efforts on behalf of black composers and musicians!
Best regards,

John McLaughlin Williams

“2007 Grammy Award winning conductor John McLaughlin Williams has been critically acclaimed for his outstanding interpretive abilities and engaging podium presence.”

“With the release of his acclaimed recordings on the Naxos label, his conducting has become familiar to listeners on both sides of the Atlantic, and he has been critically hailed in international publications such as Fanfare, Gramophone, Classic FM, The International Record Review and American Record Guide and the French recording journal Diapason. With the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine and the National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, Williams has made world premiere recordings of orchestral works by well-known and neglected American composers for Naxos' celebrated American Classics series. In February 2007 John received a Grammy Award for his recording of Olivier Messiaen’s L’Oiseax Exotiques (Exotic Birds), in which he conducted the Cleveland Chamber Symphony with pianist Angelin Chang.”

“In 1999 Mr. Williams received the Geraldine C. & Emory M. Ford Award for American Conductors. John is known for his advocacy of music by African-American and minority composers, which led to his premiere performance of William Grant Still's newly discovered orchestration of Florence Price's piano work Dances in the Canebrakes with the Centennial Celebration Orchestra, (later broadcast on NPR’s Performance Today), and to his conducting Villa-Lobos’s epic Choros No. 6 with the East Texas Symphony Orchestra.

Mr. Williams is an active violin soloist and chamber musician. He began violin studies at age ten in a Washington, D.C. public school. At age 14 the Cabinet wives of the Nixon Administration selected Williams to be soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Williams studied with Jerome Rosen at Boston University and Dorothy Delay at the New England Conservatory. He received his undergraduate (B.M., Violin) and graduate (M.M., Conducting) degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he studied conducting with Carl Topilow.”

John McLaughlin Williams won his 2007 Grammy Award for "Best Instrumental Solo with Orchestra". He played violin in the Coleridge String Quartet's recording Chevalier de Saint-Georges: String Quartets; AFKA SK-557 (2003); and in The Coleridge Ensemble's CD Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Chamber Music; AFKA SK-543 (1998). From 2001-2007 he recorded six CDs for the Naxos American Classics Series, with works of John Alden Carpenter, Henry Kimball Hadley, George Frederick McKay and Nicolas Flagello. His own compositions include Mr. Dreyfuss Goes To Washington, Cues for the History Channel film with Michael Kamen; Stray-Elling-Tones, Variations for Orchestra; Study in Seconds, for piano; Suite, Viola Solo; Symphonic Minute, Overture for Large Orchestra; The Road to Free, Big Band; and Where You'll Find Christmas, Voice and Piano or Orchestra.

John+Williams" rel="tag">John Williams
McLaughlin+Williams" rel="tag">McLaughlin Williams
Black+Conductor" rel="tag">Black Conductor
Black+Violinist" rel="tag">Black Violinist
Black+Composer" rel="tag">Black Composer
Naxos+CD" rel="tag">Naxos CD

Chicago Sun-Times: Chicago Sinfonietta takes King tribute to lofty new heights

January 23, 2008


The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. championed a message of peace and equality, and people of all backgrounds and ages made their way Monday night to Symphony Center to celebrate it. Founder and director Paul Freeman and his Chicago Sinfonietta's creatively charged programming elevated this annual civil rights tribute to lofty new heights.

The orchestra opened with the brief "Celebration!" by Adolphus Hailstork, a colorful Coplandesque setting that evoked the deep American Southwest. The famed Broadway composer Morton Gould set six spirituals to orchestra in his "Revival," which showcased the Sinfonietta's warm, luxuriant strings.

An inspiring programmatic inclusion was music by the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a black composer/violin virtuoso in Mozart's day, who now rarely finds his way into the concert hall. The Symphonie Concertante in G Major for two violins sang admirably under its soloists Christina Castelli and Melissa White. Full Article

[Dr. Paul Freeman is profiled at]

Charles Lucièn Lambert, Sr.: African American Composer & Pianist

[Variations et final sur l'air "Au Clair de la Lune", Op. 30 (9:43); Hot Springs Music Festival;
Richard Rosenberg, Conductor; Naxos 8.559037 (2000)]

Charles Lucièn Lambert, Sr. (1828-1896) and his half-brother Sidney Lambert received their first piano lessons from their father, Charles Richard Lambert. The compositions of Charles Lucièn Lambert, Sr. have been revived by the Hot Springs Music Festival, led by Richard Rosenberg, Conductor, on Naxos 8.559037 (2000). Lambert is profiled at

Lester Sullivan, University Archivist at Xavier University in New Orleans, wrote one of the liner notes of the CD: “Lucièn was born in New Orleans about 1828 or 1829. His mother appears to have been a Louisiana free Creole of colour. Charles Richard died in 1862, while he and Sidney were in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.”

Sullivan explains that racial hostility caused Charles Lucièn Lambert and his half-brother to find work away from New Orleans: “The careers of Lucièn and Sidney extended far beyond their hometown. Like the white Creole Louis Moreau Gottschalk, they could not remain long in New Orleans. Lucièn, some ten years older than Sidney, was a contemporary of Gottschalk and, in fact, Louis Moreau and Lucièn enjoyed a friendly artistic rivalry as aspiring virtuoso pianists and composers.”

Lester Sullivan writes that Lucièn was living in Paris in 1854, according to the newspaper L'Illustration. Sullivan continues: “Also in 1854, his earliest piece held at the French Bibliothèque Nationale, L'Angélus au monastère: Prière, for piano, was published. The publisher of his piano Variations et Final sur l'air Au clair de la lune, Op. 30 (1859) had to reprint it five times to meet its sales. From the start, Lucièn was more successful than Dédé in securing publication in Paris. Then, in 1858, just outside the city, his son Lucièn-Léon Guillaume was born.”

Charles Lucièn Lambert relocated to Brazil with his family, we learn from the liner notes by Lester Sullivan: “Charles Lucièn moved his family to Brazil sometime in the 1860s. In Rio de Janeiro he opened a piano and music store and taught music, eventually becoming a member of the Brazilian National Institute of Music. In 1869, Gottschalk arrived in Rio for a series of spectacular appearances, fated to be his last. Lucièn Jr., then not yet a teenager, and his father, both performed in at least one of Gottschalk's monster concerts, in which 31 pianists played simultaneously.”

Sullivan tells of Charles Lucièn Lambert's friendship with the family of the young Ernesto Nazareth, who was to become one of his country's important composers: “Lucièn Sr. eventually became a good friend of the family of the young Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934) and that great Brazilian composer's first professional teacher. Now that Nazareth's piano music is enjoying a revival on recordings, it becomes increasingly evident that he may have gained from Lambert not only his love for Chopin but also an inclination towards the pianola style, which, coupled with Gottschalk's example in the area of local colour, suggests a line of influence from Lambert Sr. and Gottschalk to Nazareth and thence to Heitor Villa-Lobos and even Darius Milhaud.”

Charles+Lambert" rel="tag">Charles Lambert
Lambert+Sr." rel="tag">Lambert Sr.
Creole+Romantic" rel="tag">Creole Romantic
African+American" rel="tag">African American
Black+Composer" rel="tag">Black Composer
Nazareth's+Teacher" rel="tag">Nazareth's Teacher

Gabriel Banat Mourns Colleague Jerome Ashby

Gabriel Banat, violinist, member of the New York Philharmonic (Retired):

I am still shocked to learn from your last message about the death of my dear friend and colleague, Jerry Ashby. Just two weeks before, when visiting backstage at the New York Philharmonic and we embraced, he seemed in perfect health. Of all the years we worked together, I got to know and admire him best as a musician and an ideal partner, in August 1990 when I had the privilege to lead a group of eleven members of our orchestra to represent the New York Philharmonic at the prestigious "Banhof" chamber music festival in Rolandseck, Germany. During the ten different programs we gave (in only ten days) Jerry and I collaborated in the horn quintet by Mozart, the Spohr Nonet, and the chamber version of "Till Eulenspiegel", by Richard Strauss. The Bonn newspapers praised our ensemble's contribution as above those offered by similar ensembles from the Chicago Symphony, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Israel Philharmonic. I feel privileged to have known him and to have performed with him. I still can't believe he is gone....

Attached find a photo of our last concert in Rolandseck. I stand to the left of Jerry Ashby.

Jerome+Ashby" rel="tag">Jerome Ashby
Gabriel+Banat" rel="tag">Gabriel Banat
Ashby+1999" rel="tag">Ashby 1999
Bahnhof+Rolandseck" rel="tag">Bahnhof Rolandseck
Backstage+Visit" rel="tag">Backstage Visit
Ashby+Tribute" rel="tag">Ashby Tribute