Saturday, February 20, 2010

Leeway Foundation: 'Jeri Lynne Johnson Featured in Philadelphia Weekly'

[Jeri Lynne Johnson, Founder and Conductor, The Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra]
“At an age when most girls are finding out about Barbie, Jeri Lynne Johnson (LTA '09, ACG'07) found her calling.
'I started piano at four, I saw my first orchestra concert at seven, and I was hooked,' she says. 'I just thought it was the most fascinating thing I had ever seen. From that point, I wanted to be a conductor and never anything else.' Reprinted from the cover story: 'Making a Scene: Five African American Artists Pick Up Where the Black Arts Movement Left Off' in the February 17 issue of The Philadelphia Weekly.

Johnson pursued her dream, studying music at Wellesley College, pursuing a Ph.D in music theory at the University of Chicago, and eventually becoming the Assistant Conductor of the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra. Though this was an accomplishment, it wasn’t until 2005 when Johnson became the first African-American woman to win an international conducting award, the Taki Concordia Fellowship, that she hit a turning point.”

Determined to create inclusion in classical music, Johnson formed the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra in 2008. Under Johnson’s leadership as conductor, black Julliard and Curtis Institute-trained musicians and black composers such as Francis Johnson and Ellis Marsalis are not one-time gimmicks, but year-round staples. Besides serving as a model of diversity, the orchestra is also a model of success—all of its shows have been sold out, and even in this economic climate, it’s operating in the black.”

'Classical music is not just for one socio-economic or cultural group to enjoy, or to own, or to dispense to the community as they see fit,' she says. 'Martin Luther King died so that my dreams and possibilities, and what I can enjoy, are not determined by the color of my skin. I guess I grew up with that assumption, not realizing that some people didn’t.'” [Francis B. Johnson (1792-1844) is profiled at]

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