Saturday, September 21, 2019 Valerie Coleman’s stirring ‘Umoja’ is a Philadelphia Orchestra milestone

The Philadelphia Orchestra

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Valerie Coleman’s stirring ‘Umoja’ is a Philadelphia Orchestra milestone: The first classical work by a living African American woman that they have performed. Operas by Black Composers Have Long Been Ignored. Explore 8.

Credit Richard Termine for The New York Times)

The New York Times

That “Porgy and Bess” — written by three white men, the Gershwin brothers and DuBose Heyward — has become known as the quintessential opera of the black American experience is a symbol of both the systemic racism found throughout the arts and the specifically slow-to-modernize nature of the operatic canon. (It opens the Metropolitan Opera’s season on Sept. 23.)

But though they’ve been ignored or underheard, African-American composers have long been crafting ambitious music dramas. Some of the works cited below exist in complete editions, ready to be programmed. Others are still emerging, thanks to the work of scholars reversing decades of neglect. (Dates indicate either publication or the first known performance.)

The “king of ragtime” had trouble getting this opera performed. Some of that difficulty had to do with branding, since “Treemonisha” — in which the youthful title character dodges danger, 20 years or so after the Civil War, in order to become a teacher and community leader — is not best understood as a ragtime opera. 

It’s more than that. The work has the dramatic cut-and-thrust of Verdi, some syncopations familiar from the composer’s piano music, as well as choral complexities and solo arias that can stand with canonical works of the Romantic and modern eras.
Joplin self-published the piano-and-vocal score — a costly endeavor. Gunther Schuller’s later arrangement put the work more squarely in the tradition of grand opera. But Rick Benjamin has made an effective arrangement for a smaller, more period-accurate orchestra.
A friend of Joplin, Mr. Freeman led his own company — the Negro Grand Opera Company — in an era when the Metropolitan Opera told him that it could “not see our way clear” to accepting his music for production.

When “Voodoo,” an evening-length warning against using magic for romantic fulfillment, was performed in a semi-staged production in New York in 2015, it was the first time the work had been performed since 1928. The piece has Wagnerian affinities, with Rhinemaiden-like music in the early going. But this influence is often suavely merged with spirituals and African percussion accents — often deployed in the service of love triangles and mystic conjuring spells.
Before she married W.E.B. Du Bois, Shirley Graham was known as perhaps the first black woman to have an opera performed, in 1932, for an audience of 25,000 at Cleveland Stadium. The score for that epic work, “Tom-Tom” — which traces the black experience from West Africa to the Harlem Renaissance — was long thought lost. (The full work was found in Ms. Graham Du Bois’s papers.) A performance at Harvard in 2018, organized by the scholar Lucy Caplan and the American Modern Opera Company, introduced tantalizing excerpts — some merging jazz harmony with European operatic influences.
The writer of the hit song “Charleston” was also a composer with theatrical experience. This one-act opera about labor politics, with a libretto by Langston Hughes, was performed in 1940. (The deliverance that a working-class community seeks is provided by the labor organizer of the title, who aides in the creation of a union despite the opposition of the local overseer.)

Once again, the score was long thought lost, aside from arrangements of one aria, “Hungry Blues,” recorded in 1939. Yet at the turn of the 21st century, Mr. Johnson’s piano score was discovered, and a reconstruction was mounted in 2002.
Often called the dean of African-American composers, Mr. Still also worked with Langston Hughes — on “Troubled Island,” which played at New York City Opera in 1949.

But his later “Highway One, USA” is a brutally compact piece of American verismo revolving around sibling rivalry and sexual jealousy; it could easily work on a double bill with another one-act (“Cavalleria Rusticana” or “Pagliacci,” perhaps). For now, a complete rendition is available on a recent recording by the St. Olaf Orchestra, and an excerpt was brilliantly recorded for Sony’s Black Composers Series, in the 1970s. 

Friday, September 20, 2019 Deceptive Cadence: Why Is American Classical Music So White?

                 Antonin Dvorak predicted that American classical music would draw from African American traditions. A new article wonders why American classical music has remained so white.

Karen Chan /Getty Images/EyeEm  

Tom Huizenga

September 20, 2019

When the first enslaved Africans landed on American shores in 1619, their musical traditions landed with them. Four centuries later, the primacy of African American music is indisputable, not only in this country but in much of the world. How that music has evolved, blending with or giving rise to other traditions — from African songs and dances to field hollers and spirituals, from ragtime and blues to jazz, R&B and hip-hop — is a topic of endless discussion.

More difficult to decode is the relationship African American music has had — or should have had — with America's classical music tradition. Today, it's not uncommon for Kanye West or Kendrick Lamar to perform alongside a symphony orchestra, yet African Americans generally aren't performing in those orchestras themselves. Less than 2% of musicians in American orchestras are African American, according to a 2014 study by the League of American Orchestras. Only 4.3% of conductors are black, and composers remain predominantly white as well.

All of these ratios are skewed, of course, by decades of institutional racial bias. Still, it's fair to wonder why the sound of American classical music, especially as it developed in the early 20th century, remained so European, drawing heavily from the harmonic language of Johannes Brahms and Richard Wagner. Had the vernacular of slave songs, spirituals and jazz taken root in our classical music, we would have a different landscape today — and a classical sound that is uniquely American.

Joseph Horowitz says it almost happened. In his article "New World Prophecy," published last week in the autumn edition of The American Scholar, the cultural historian argues that the seeds of a truly American sound were sown but never watered, as American composers in the late 19th century largely resisted the influence of African American music. Horowitz, who has written numerous books about the history of music in America, pays special attention to George Gershwin — one white composer who did embrace black music — and a handful of African American composers who found genuine success in the 1930s, only to see it quickly fade. William Dawson's Negro Folk Symphony, premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra with superstar conductor Leopold Stokowski, is held up in particular as a neglected American treasure.

Horowitz joined me to talk about what he sees as a long series of missed opportunities, from Antonín Dvořák's insistence in the 1890s that the "Negro melodies" were the future of American music, to the acclaimed but undervalued work of African American composers like Florence Price and William Grant Still. That trove of melody-rich, expressive black music could have taken root in America's classical music, Horowitz maintains, but it didn't — and as a result, our classical music has remained overwhelmingly white and increasingly marginalized.

The American Scholar

Music Fundraiser for The Bahamas

Dr. Christine Gangelhoff of the University of the Bahamas writes:

Dear Bill,

As The Bahamas heals and rebuilds, we turn our attention to the healing power of the arts. Please support our campaign to rebuild music programs on the islands devastated by hurricane Dorian. I encourage all musicians and educators to share this flyer with their network and offer their support by any means possible. Thanks so much for your continued support.

Best wishes,

Dr. Christine Gangelhoff
Professor of Music, University of The Bahamas
Artistic Director, Nassau Music Society,
Founder and Director, Bahamas Music Educators' Association
Nassau, Bahamas

John Malveaux: Met will stage first opera by composer of African descent

Julia Bullock and Davone Tines in James Robinson's world-premiere staging of Terence Blanchard's Fire Shut Up in My Bones at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
(© Eric Woolsey)

Composer-trumpeter Blanchard
(Courtesy of the artist)

Metropolitan Opera will stage first opera with music by composer of African descent  

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Concert Program Notes for Alvin Singleton's premiere "Hallelujah Anyhow" Oct. 15

Alvin Singleton

Momenta Quartet

By Stephanie Griffin

Momenta is especially honored to present the world premiere of Alvin Singleton’s fourth string quartet, Hallelujah Anyhow, commissioned by Chamber Music America. We met Alvin through another tireless Momenta advocate, Thomas Buckner, who invited us to perform Alvin’s second and third quartets as part of his seventy-fifth birthday concert on the Interpretations series at Roulette. Born in Brooklyn in 1940, Alvin spent fourteen years living and working in Europe and returned to the United States in 1985 to become Composer-in-Residence with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He still divides his time between Atlanta and New York City, has won countless commissions and awards, and his music has been championed by major ensembles all over the world, including the symphony orchestras of Boston, Pittsburgh, Houston, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Detroit, Oregon, Baltimore, Syracuse, Louisville, and Florida, the American Composers Orchestra, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, l’Orchestre de Paris, das Guerzenich-Orchester Koelner Philharmoniker and also the Kronos Quartet, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Nash Ensemble of London, the Asko Ensemble of Amsterdam, Ensemble des 20. Jahrhunderts of Vienna, the London Sinfonietta, Trio Basso of Cologne and the Bremer Tanztheater. 

The famously elusive Alvin Singleton does not like to talk about his music and never explains his evocative and enigmatic titles. From my perspective, early in our rehearsal process for this piece, the most striking feature of Hallelujah Anyhow is the preponderance of unison textures. The quartet opens with a bold statement of the motive from which the whole piece is tightly woven: a half-step from E to F and back, followed by whole-step motion from F to G and back, in four octaves and with a distinctive syncopated rhythm. This motive is followed by flurries of jagged chromatic sixteenth notes, in pitch and rhythmic unison in all four instruments. The character is bright and celebratory, and evokes the sound world of a jazz big band. As in Alvin’s other quartets, he contrasts fiery, energetic material with calm chorales and moments of stasis. He goes further in this direction in Hallelujah Anyhow than in any of his previous quartets, with an almost Tchaikovsky-like use of dynamics, ranging from four pianos (pppp) to five fortes (fffff). (Tchaikovsky still out-does Alvin in his Symphonie Pathétique, but from what I have gathered Alvin is a much happier and better-adjusted man!) As for the title, I can only venture a guess. Perhaps Alvin is countering the fractured state of the world today with his uncompromising unisons, and making a conscious decision to rejoice in life as it is, despite the challenging circumstances that surround us.

Sphinx Organization: Less than four weeks to apply for Sphinx programs!

Don't miss the opportunity to transform your life!

Soloists, orchestral musicians, entrepreneurs, and arts administrators - Act now!

Applications for these Sphinx programs are due on October 15:

View Applications and Requirements

Apply for one or multiple programs by October 15, 2019 at 11:59pm.
Help us spread the word: Forward this email or share on social media to send this opportunity to the musicians and arts leaders in your life!

Eric Conway: Morgan Alumnus Anthony Brown receives a Certified Gold Single

Dr. Eric Conway writes:

Morgan Alumnus Anthony Brown receives a Certified Gold Single for recording of Worth!

Today was a  very special day at Morgan State University.  Tyscot Records honored Gospel Music artist and Morgan State alumnus Anthony Brown with a Certified Gold Single for his award-winning recording of “Worth!” 

The ceremony began around 11:40 AM in the Murphy Fine Arts Center Recital Hall.  As Chair of the department and former piano teacher of Anthony Brown, I welcomed everyone to the university.  After my words of welcome, Gospel Music artist Maurette Brown Clark gave remarks about her special relationship with Anthony.   Then, Gospel Music artist Stephen Hurd, read a letter from the Mayor of Baltimore, congratulating Anthony on his number one hit - "Worth."  Anthony then spoke about his journey to share his music with the world.  Finally, as a total surprise, Tyscot Records President Bryant Scott presented Anthony with a framed Gold-Single Certificate for his recording of “Worth” denoting over five-hundred thousand units sold!  

After all the official photos, Anthony honored the crowd on hand with an excerpt of him singing his single:  “Worth.”

What a great event for Anthony and the entire Morgan State Community!

See photos attached from event and YouTube link to ceremony.


Link to Anthony Brown Ceremony:  
Anthony actually sings a few measures of “Worth” at: 27’15"

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. - Aristotle
Eric Conway, D.M.A.
Fine and Performing Arts Department, Chair
Morgan State University

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

John Malveaux: Not one classical music composer of African descent is on a U.S. stamp

John Malveaux of 

In a blog dated September 16, 2019, Judith Anne Still, daughter and publisher of composer William Grant Still, pointedly complained that two great American composers of classical music and opera (Florence Price and William Grant Still) have not been honored with US postal stamps. Florence Price and William Grant Still are both of African descent. A review of African Americans honored with US postal stamps does not identify a single classical music and opera composer of African descent and only two vocalists of classical music and opera. Please see stamp selection process  and help correct a damaging image issue. Prom 39: Elgar, Errollyn Wallen, Mendelssohn and Mussorgsky

Last chance to listen to THIS FRAME IS PART OF THE PAINTING

BBC Proms

Errollyn Wallen

The Frame is Part of the Painting
Singer: Catriona Morison. Orchestra: BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Conductor: Elim Chan.                                                                                             
Listen Now

John Malveaux: LA Phil & Inglewood USD Free Concert Saturday, Sept. 28, 7 PM

John Malveaux of 

Please see announcement of LA Phil free concert featuring double bass duet by two YOLA grads reaffirming LA Phil commitment to the mission of music education and community service in Inglewood. Information about the Los Angeles Philharmonic new YOLA Center opening Fall 2020 in Inglewood designed by Gehry Partner LLC will be on hand.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: 'Hateful Things' exhibits racist memorabilia from Thurs.

David Pilgrim, founder of the Jim Crow Museum in Michigan, shows off some of his collection of racist memorabilia. A traveling tour of memorabilia opens Thursday at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

by Sean Clancy

September 17, 2019

Hateful things are coming to the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock.

Among them are advertisements, signs, board games, children's books and postcards.

They come from the more than 14,000-piece collection of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich., and represent, in the museum's words, "nearly 150 years of anti-black, racist objects and images."

The objects make up "Hateful Things," the museum's traveling exhibit that opens Thursday at the Mosaic Templars center. Jim Crow Museum founder and director David Pilgrim will speak and answer questions at the opening.

"These objects were everywhere, in every room in homes; they were in stores, they were so common you did not see them," Pilgrim says. "But when you create a facility like we have, and you put thousands of them in the same place, it forces people to look at these objects that were so common that they were invisible."

The exhibit is being brought to the Templars center to mark the 100th anniversary of the Elaine Massacre, the racial conflict that began Sept. 30, 1919, in Phillips County and left an unknown number of black residents dead.

Pianist Linda Holzer will perform Fantasie Negre at the exhibit opening, which was written by Little Rock native Florence Price in 1929. Many believe she composed it in remembrance of the Elaine Massacre.

Christina Shutt is director of the Mosaic Templars center.

"The Elaine Massacre is not just a blip in history ... things like that could happen again," she says. "You build up a culture of hate, you build up a culture of intolerance, you build up a culture of fear. I think that is most poignantly represented through racist propaganda and racist images."

Objects in the exhibit "shaped and reflected the attitudes that undergirded the atrocities committed against black people," Pilgrim says.

The pieces gathered by the Jim Crow museum aren't just relics of the past, and racially insensitive objects are still around, Shutt says, mentioning a sweater marketed by Gucci earlier this year that resembled blackface.

"Often when we think about history, we think about things that happened before our lifetime, but the museum collects things that feature former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. These things are in our present as well, and people are still out there creating this racist imagery."

The items in "Hateful Things," which will be at the center until Nov. 30, will be presented with panels that place the images in historical context.

"Our goal is to get people to talk honestly and deeply about race, race relations and racism," Pilgrim says.

Colorado College: U.S. Premiere of Nicholas Payton's “Black American Symphony” Oct. 25

Nicholas Payton

Colorado College

Colorado Springs, Colorado


CC, Philharmonic collaboration features two masterworks

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Sept. 17, 2019 – Multi-instrumentalist, composer and renowned trumpet master Nicholas Payton will be performing live in concert with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic on Friday, Oct. 25 at the Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.
This groundbreaking collaboration between the Colorado College Africana Intellectual Project, the Office of Performing Arts and the Colorado Springs Philharmonic will feature two masterworks rarely encountered in the concert hall: “Sketches of Spain” and the United States premiere of “Black American Symphony.” Both works highlight the contribution of Black American music to the world, here through the lens of symphonic music.
“Performances of symphonic work by composers of color are all too rare,” said NPR music critic Michelle Mercer. “Hosting not just a performance, but the U.S. premiere of Nicholas Payton’s bold, inventive ‘Black American Symphony’ here in Colorado Springs qualifies as our musical event of the year.”
“Sketches of Spain,” the renowned 1960 concept album by Miles Davis and Gil Evans, explores the melodies, harmonies and rhythms of Spain. Payton will reinterpret the cultural influences of Spain via the Moors from Africa while the orchestra performs from the manuscripts prepared for the original recording.
In “Black American Symphony,” Payton’s 2012 full orchestral work, he draws exclusively from the canon of 20th-century Black music — blues, gospel, jazz, hip-hop and rhythm and blues — to reveal a continuum of communal expression of a people that continues to change with the times. The work sums up the last 100 years of Black American music and suggests the possibilities of what is ahead in the next 100 years. Joining Payton on stage to conduct will be Darin Atwater, founding director of Soulful Symphony. 
The concert is produced by Colorado College under the auspices of the Colorado College Africana Intellectual Project and the Office of Performing Arts. The goal of CC’s newly formed Office of Performing Arts is to encourage and amplify collaborative projects that resonate throughout the community.
“What better way to ponder the past, embrace the present and envision the future than through music?” asks Ryan Bañagale, associate professor of music and director of performing arts at Colorado College.
Colorado College’s Africana Intellectual Project is a recently initiated program spearheaded and directed by Michael Sawyer, assistant professor in the English Department and in Race, Ethnicity, & Migration Studies. The Africana Intellectual Project is designed to create an intellectual space at CC dedicated to discussing the African Diaspora and its implications and challenges as well as providing an opportunity to celebrate black artists, thinkers and scholars.
“This event, in many ways, represents the capstone of the Africana Intellectual Project’s exploration of music as a component of its ‘Black Art(s): Radical Potentialities’ series that has featured performances by Pharoah Saunders and Talib Kweli,” said Sawyer.
“We call this a capstone because Payton’s Black American Symphony offers the audience an opportunity to take stock of 100 years of the African American musical tradition in a setting that bridges the gap between Western classical music and the radical nature of Black Art. Further, Payton is one of the few masters of the trumpet up to the challenge of Miles Davis and Gil Evan’s masterpiece ‘Sketches of Spain.’ This is a cultural event that should not be missed,” said Sawyer.
Tickets for “Nicholas Payton: Live in Concert with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic” are on sale now. They range from $20-$75 and can be purchased at or directly from the Pikes Peak Center box office. Additional information at

About Colorado College

Colorado College is a nationally prominent, four-year liberal arts college that was founded in Colorado Springs in 1874. The college operates on the innovative Block Plan, in which its approximately 2,100 undergraduate students take one class at a time in intensive 3½-week segments. In 2016, Colorado College announced an alliance with the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and the following year the two became the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, providing innovative, educational and multidisciplinary arts experiences for the campus and Colorado Springs communities. The college also offers a master of arts in teaching degree. For more information, visit

"Down From The Heavens: Celebrating The Music of R. Nathaniel Dett" Oct. 11, 7:30 PM

Clipper Erickson writes of the Westminster Choir College's celebration of the birthday of R. Nathaniel Dett in Princeton, New Jersey:

For a preview of this wonderful performance listen to my interpretations of Dett's "As His Own Soul
on YouTube!


the Westminster Jubilee Singers perform
"Go Not Far from Me"

Monday, September 16, 2019

Judith Anne Still Suggests Postage Stamp for William Grant Still & Florence Price

 William Grant Still (1895-1978)

Florence B. Price (1887-1953)

Judith Anne Still writes:


I am wondering if you would be interested in posting my idea about a postage stamp for William Grant Still and Florence Price, America's greatest composers of concert and opera music. 

There was a sinister reason for the U.S. State Department and White-Power elements to destroy the promise of the operas of William Grant Still and the symphonies of Florence Price and William Grant Still in the 1940s.   How could the dominance of non-minorities be justified if the greatest American composers were proven to be "of color"?   It was bigotry that caused Price and Still to pass on without the recordings, commissions, performances and revenues that they so richly deserved.

And, over 40 years after Still's death, poor and unknown as he was, there remains no proper recognition by the United States government of his achievement, and the same is true of Florence Price.   Both composers wrote 5 wonderful symphonies each, and the "Afro-American Symphony" is the most praised and performed symphonic work in American history.  Still's cantata, "And They Lynched Him on a Tree," had so many performances since 2016 that it is the acknowledged leader among American cantatas.  Even the Congressional Chorus, along with 3 other D.C. choruses presented it with huge acclaim in the Capitol.  (Trump did not attend.) 

In spite of the public interest in Price and Still since 2016, there is no movement on the part of the United States Postal Service to honor great composers of Color. They honor Blacks from the popular realm in the field of non-classical music, and they honor White composers such as Leonard Bernstein, who said of William Grant Still, "We do not admit those composers," but they do not recognize the composer who wrote the works "To You America" (for West Point) and "Plain Chant for America."

If there are any among your readers who feel that this is an omission,  I would like to ask  them to write to Citizen's Stamp Advisory Committee, Stamp Development, U.S. Postal Service, 1735 N. Lynn St. Room 5013, Arlington, VA 22209-6432.  Or to the U.S. Postmaster, see for the newest  E-mail address. A word to representatives in Congress might also be productive. 

This period in our nation's history is critical, to cut out the rotten elements in national thought, and to bring us all together in a spirit of mutual respect and restoration of the ideals of the American 

Judith Anne Still

William Grant Still Music 

Jordin Sparks Joins "Waitress" on Broadway Tonight

Multi-Platinum Recording Artist and Actress JORDIN SPARKS

Returns to Broadway Tonight In


Sparks is a Grammy nominated, multi-platinum, singer/songwriter and actress who garnered worldwide attention at age 17 as winner of season six American Idol. Sparks’ popular singles have sold over 10 million digital tracks and has received to date two BET Awards, one American Music Award, one BMI Songwriting Award, one People’s Choice Award, nominated for two MTV Awards, and a Grammy. Sparks also made her film debut starring opposite Whitney Houston in the SONY Pictures film, Sparkle. She has since appeared in numerous films, television programs and specials as an actress, host and performer.

The producers of the hit musical are also pleased to welcome back three former cast members. Original cast member Christopher Fitzgerald and Natasha Yvette Williams start performances tonight as Ogie and Becky respectively. Caitlin Houlahan returns as Dawn on Thursday, September 19. Mark Evans will extend his run as Dr. Pomatter through October 27.

Waitress tells the story of Jenna, a waitress and expert pie-maker who dreams of a way out of her small town and rocky marriage. Pouring her heart into her pies, she crafts desserts that mirror her topsy-turvy life such as “​The Key (Lime) to Happiness Pie” and “Betrayed by My Eggs Pie.” When a baking contest in a nearby county — and a satisfying run-in with someone new — show Jenna a chance at a fresh start, she must find the courage to seize it. Change is on the menu, as long as Jenna can write her own perfectly personal recipe for happiness.

Waitress opened April 24, 2016 at Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre (256 West 47th Street). Based upon the 2007 motion picture written by Adrienne Shelly, Waitress is the first Broadway musical in history to have four women in the four top creative team spots, with a book by Jessie Nelson, a score by six-time Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, choreography by Lorin Latarro and direction by Tony Award-winner Diane Paulus.

As of tonight, Waitress currently stars Jordin Sparks, Natasha Yvette Williams, Caitlin Houlahan, Mark Evans, Ben Thompson, Larry Marshall, Benny Elledge, Christopher Fitzgerald, Dayna Jarae Dantzler, Tyrone Davis Jr., Law Terrell Dunford, Andrew Fitch, Molly Hager, Jessie Hooker-Bailey, Arica Jackson, Molly Jobe, Brandon Kalm, Raigan Olivia Newton, Sophia Rodriguez, Stephanie Torns and Dan Tracy.

Waitress is now playing in London’s West End at the Adelphi Theatre and on a North American tour.
Tickets are available through January 5, 2020 by visiting the Brooks Atkinson Theatre (256 West 47th), calling Ticketmaster at 877-250-2929 or online at

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