Tuesday, July 27, 2021

African Diaspora Music Project is Helping Singers & Orchestras Diversify Their Repertoire With New Database of Works By African Diaspora Composers



Currently housing nearly 4,000 songs and more than 1,200 symphonic works, the database will continue to grow through new submissions and continued research


Monday, July 26, 2021– Ann Arbor, MI: In September 2019, after decades of researching and consolidating vocal works by African Diaspora composers, Dr. Louise Toppin launched the African Diaspora Music Project (ADMP) database, which currently offers nearly 4,000 songs by composers of African descent.

Toppin, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance explains:

“As artists increasingly look to diversify their programming, they are faced with unexpected challenges. While living composers often update their websites, many pieces by previous generations of African Diaspora composers are not published, and it takes hours of research to find publisher information for others. This is compounded by a lack of performance history for many pieces, which have been historically underperformed, have been neglected for decades, or were never premiered.”

“My father's passion for history as a public historian--not someone who spent his time just writing works for an academic audience, but hosting television and radio shows, writing for newspapers, finding ways to reach a wide audience—has deeply informed my approach and scope for this project. It has shaped me,” Toppin stated about the legacy of her father, Edgar Allan Toppin, Sr. A public historian and an African-American professor of history specializing in Civil War, Reconstruction, and African-American history, one of his many accomplishments was becoming Board President of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, where he was instrumental in turning Black History Week into Black History Month in 1976.


Trained as an archivist, first by her father and later as a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, Toppin learned the difficulty of locating and bringing together repertoire. Her project began informally while at the University of Michigan while working as a research assistant to music scholars George Shirley and Willis Patterson, and later while organizing the works of Florence Price owned by scholar Ray Linda Brown. As she traveled to the National Association of Negro musicians, the country's oldest Association of Black professional musicians, she had the opportunity to meet and perform with Black composers who freely shared their works with her. Overtime, she amassed one of the largest personal collections of composers of African descent.


Designed as a living and growing database that will strengthen as more works are submitted and discovered, African Diaspora Music Project supports Toppin’s ongoing mission to help bring this music to concert halls around the world. The database is designed with conductors and artistic administrators in mind, making it extremely user-friendly. Users can search by ensemble size and length of work, allowing them to find many pieces for their programming needs, and with perusal PDFs of scores and recordings provided whenever possible. ADMP is a free resource created as a repository for music, providing access to scores, and encouraging research, exploration and performance of new works.


Lee Koonce, President and Artistic Director, of Gateways Music Festival shares: “African Diaspora Music Project provides a transformational resource at a time when individual artists and performing arts organizations are making a more serious effort to reflect the broadest communities and constituencies possible.” 


“ADMP has introduced me to a host of composers and works unknown to me beforehand and I have already begun a journey with this wonderful music that will not only help in providing material for future recording projects, but will also inspire interesting and creative programming ideas,” American operatic tenor Lawrence Brownlee shares. “I’ve only just scratched the surface of this extremely impressive website, but I look forward to the new discoveries I’ll find in this ever-expanding database.”

ADMP includes access to works in various languages and from across the globe, such as Pende from the Republic of Congo, French Creole, Portuguese from Brazil, and more. Works span from H.T. Burleigh, the first prominent Black composer in America born at the end of the Civil War to millennial composer Brandon J. Spencer, and from well-known artists to compositions waiting to be fully appreciated and performed.  It’s not hyperbolic to note that ADMP may change the very voice of American music as the works of Black composers can now be accessed easily in one user-friendly database.


Susie Park, Chair of the Minnesota Orchestra Artistic Advisory Committee, has used the database’s searchable composer, length, and instrumentation features while selecting composers for season programming: “African Diaspora Music Project Database is an invaluable tool in finding works by Black composers, not only for our season programming, but for our upcoming Anti-Racist Learning Project. As the database grows as a repository, I can only imagine how it will serve to be even more indispensable to musicians and administrators searching for music by Black composers, and effectively expand the canon and face of classical music as we know it."


American Baritone Thomas Hampson concurs: "One of the most exciting and important resource databases to appear in a long time is the African Diaspora Music  Project. With the heightened and enlightened curiosity for all things African American, especially in the myriad and fascinating canon of classical music, this resource is indispensable. Let us all move forward together.” The latest Hampsong Foundation project “Song of America: A Celebration of Black music” at the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg was brilliantly formed with the guidance of Dr. Louise Toppin and her African Diaspora Project.


In 2020, when Conductor James Blachly approached Toppin with the possibility of adding an orchestral component to the site, she jumped at the opportunity:


“When James reached out to me I realized that this was the right moment and the right collaborative partner to move the database into phase II.  We hope that this iteration provides an even better user experience for those researching both vocal and orchestral repertoire.  Together James and I hope that we can help transform the experience of musicians interested in incorporating the work of African Diaspora composers."


“With 1,200 entries so far, we expect this resource to help people program with far greater breadth than they would doing their own research with limited time,” said Associate Editor James Blachly. “But we want this to be a resource that represents our ongoing efforts as a field, and for musicians, historians, orchestras, conductors, artistic administrators, and others to continually update it with new recordings and listings as our collective knowledge and research continues to expand.”



"Louise Toppin has been a leading and guiding force in the promotion and documentation of living and past composers of African descent.  Her tireless advocacy is a beacon for this important work. She not only leads as an innovative entrepreneur, educator, scholar but as well as a leading proponent of contemporary performance practice and concertizing. In my 30 + years as a composer and author, there would simply not be the current information and celebrations of our works as Black concert artists without the dedicated work of Louise Toppin." said Dr. Bill Banfield, composer, author


Artistic director/Conductor Berklee Contemporary Symphony Orchestra

President of the International Conductors Guild
Boston Symphony Orchestra Composer-in-Residence

Julius P. Williams said “Louise Toppin has been on the forefront championing African American composers for many years with her work with Videmus and the new database. I have collaborated on many of these projects and recorded with her two CDs that emphasizes the music of black composers i.e, “Heart on the Wall” and our newest release songs of ‘Love and Justice’ which will be out later this year on the Albany record label.  She is one of the few people that I see to have true credibility on this subject and has spent years curating the Black Music repertoire, existence and excellence in concert music.”


“I spent a lot of time at ADMP listening and learning. A couple hours in fact. And a big chunk of time with Bill Banfield’s music. This literally wouldn’t have been possible even a month ago. Such an amazing accomplishment. Thank you both so much. This resource is going to make real impact in the industry.” explained James Barry.


Dr. Louise Toppin has received critical acclaim for her operatic, orchestral, and oratorio performances in the United States, Europe, South America, Asia, New Zealand, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. She has appeared in recital on many concert series including Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Broadway’s Hudson Theater, and Lincoln Center.


Represented by Joanne Rile Artist Management, she toured in "Gershwin on Broadway" with pianist Leon Bates and currently tours in that show with Joseph Joubert, piano and Robert Sims, baritone.  She has recorded eighteen compact disks of primarily American Music including solo CDs Songs of Illumination, (Centaur Records), and on Albany Records Ah love, but a day, He’ll Bring it to Pass, (Joseph Joubert, piano), Witness with the Czech National Symphony, Heart on the Wall with the Prague Radio Symphony and La Saison des fleurs,  CDs with three publications including A Hall Johnson collection from Carl Fisher publisher.   Her newest releases due out in 2021 are Songs of Love and Justice and Summer.Life.Songs (two CDs of songs for soprano by Adolphus Hailstork); Duos (with countertenor Darryl Taylor on African American vocal chamber music) and The Soprano Songs of T. J. Anderson with pianist John McDonald. 


Most recently she has edited scores for publication. Her recent publications Rediscovering Margaret Bonds: Spiritual Suite and four volumes of Songs by Adolphus Hailstork (Deux Chansons, Sacred Songs, Songs with harp and Chamber works) were released in the summer of 2020 by the publisher Classical Vocal Reprints.  Her anthology of Rediscovering Margaret Bonds: Art Songs was released March 1, 2021  from Classical Vocal Reprints and her Margaret Bonds choral work “St. Francis’ Prayer” for SATB with Hildegard Press will all be released later in March.


Her recent performances include the 150th celebration of the ratification of the 13th amendment for Congress and President Obama at the U.S. Capitol; a performance in Havana, Cuba with the women’s orchestra Camerata Romeu and the opening of the Smithsonian’s African American Heritage Museum.


As a scholar, she has lectured on the music of African American composers and has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered (Margaret Bonds); for many national conventions and on many college campuses including Harvard, Tufts, and Duke.  As the co-founder and director of the George Shirley Vocal Competition that focuses exclusively on repertoire by African American art song, and Videmus (a non-profit organization that promotes the concert repertoire of African American and women composers), she encourages the performance and scholarship of African American compositions by students and scholars. She is also the founder of the Africandiasporamusicproject.org that is a research tool to locate the repertoire of composers of the African Diaspora from the 1600s to the present.


Previously, Dr. Toppin was the Distinguished University Professor of Music and Chair of the Department of Music at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  She is currently Professor of Music (Voice) at The University of Michigan.  www.louisetoppin.com


James Blachly is a Grammy®-winning conductor dedicated to enriching the concert experience by connecting with audiences in memorable and meaningful ways. His world premiere recording of English composer Dame Ethel Smyth’s 1930 masterpiece The Prison, released on Chandos Records, won a 2021 Grammy Award and was widely acclaimed by The New York Times, The New Yorker, Gramophone, San Francisco Chronicle, Financial Times, The Guardian, and many others.


James Blachly serves as Music Director of the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra and of the Experiential Orchestra, and is in increasing demand as a versatile guest conductor in diverse repertoire, including his debut with the New York Philharmonic in March 2022.  Since 2020, Blachly has served as Associate Editor and Orchestral Liaison for the African Diaspora Music Project, directed by Dr. Louise Toppin. 

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