Category: Classical/Traditional

R.I.P. George Walker, 96, Trailblazing American Composer and Pulitzer Prize Winner

Composer George Walker (photo via npr.org)

by Tom Huizenga via npr.com

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, pianist and educator George Walker has died at the age of 96. Walker’s death was announced to NPR by one of his family members, Karen Schaefer, who said he died Thursday at Mountainside Hospital in Montclair, N.J. after a fall.

Walker’s music was firmly rooted in the modern classical tradition, but also drew from African-American spirituals and jazz. His nearly 100 compositions range broadly, from intricately orchestrated symphonic works and concertos to intimate songs and solo piano pieces.

“His music is always characterized by a great sense of dignity, which is how he always comported himself,” says composer Jeffrey Mumford, who, as a music professor at Lorain County Community College in Ohio, uses examples of Walker’s music in his classes. “His style evolved over the years; his earlier works, some written while still a student, embodied an impressive clarity and elegance.”

Walker was a trailblazing man of “firsts,” and not just because of the Pulitzer. In the year 1945 alone, he was the first African-American pianist to play a recital at New York’s Town Hall, the first black instrumentalist to play solo with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the first black graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

The following year, Walker wrote his first string quartet. In 1990, he revised the second movement into a new piece, Lyric for Strings, which has become his most often-performed work.

In 1996, Walker broke new ground again when he became the first African-American composer to win a Pulitzer Prize for music. Lilacs for voice and orchestra, set to a text by Walt Whitman, is a moving meditation on the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Continue reading “R.I.P. George Walker, 96, Trailblazing American Composer and Pulitzer Prize Winner”

HISTORY: Musician Dom Flemons Reclaims Songs of Black Cowboys on New Smithsonian Folkways Album

Dom Flemons, the Grammy-winning co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)

Whitewashed from cowboy movies and lore, the African-American contribution to the shaping of the American West was more significant than previously considered, down to tunes black cowboys and laborers sang, which were as familiar as “Home on the Range.”

In researching songs that would become his album Dom Flemons presents Black Cowboys for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the artist learned that musicologist John Lomax recorded the most familiar version of “Home on the Range” from a black cook in San Antonio.

“He transcribes the fellow’s particular way of singing the song and it became the well-known western anthem that we know today,” says Flemons. It was the same with a familiar cattle driving song about a horse, “Goodbye Old Paint.”

The fiddler who Lomax recorded singing that song was white, Flemons says. “But another musician talked about how he learned the song from an ex-slave who worked for his father on the ranch.” It has since been credited to the black cowboy and former slave Charley Willis.

Hearing about the roots of two songs so closely associated with the American West, Flemons says, “started leading me in a musical direction that showed that African-American cowboys were an essential part of the general cowboy song theme.”

From books like Philip Durham’s seminal 1965 The Negro Cowboys, a copy of which he found in his native Arizona, Flemons learned one in four cowboys who helped settle the West were African-Americans, as were some of its biggest personalities, from Nat Love, better known as Deadwood Dick, to Bass Reeves, the first black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi, who many believe was the model for The Lone Ranger.

Flemons wrote an original song about the leading black movie cowboy, Bill Pickett. And he found strong connections to other parts of the African-American experience such as the cowboys who became Pullman Porters and in turn became strong figures in the Civil Rights Movement. “I knew I had to tell a story that was a story of the past, but also point people to a direction to show that there are modern black cowboys that are still out there,” Flemons says.

Continue reading “HISTORY: Musician Dom Flemons Reclaims Songs of Black Cowboys on New Smithsonian Folkways Album”

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Dawoud Bey, Rhiannon Giddens, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Tyshawn Sorey and Jesmyn Ward Receive 2017 MacArthur “Genius” Grants

2017 MacArthur Fellowship Recipients Dawoud Bey, Rhiannon Giddens, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Tyshawn Sorey and Jesmyn Ward (Photo collage via blavity.com)

via blavity.com

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has announced the winners of this year’s fellowship, better known as the “genius” grant. 24 fellows were chosen, whose professions range immensely across the board. There are historians and musicians, computer scientists and social activists, writers, and architects.

What they all have in common is that each of the recipients has been selected for having “shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction” — and each will receive a $625,000 award from the foundation “as an investment in their potential,” paid out over five years with no strings attached. This year, there were six black recipients of the amazing award:

1. Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 34, painter living in Los Angeles

“Njideka Akunyili Crosby is visualizing the complexities of globalization and transnational identity in works that layer paint, photographic imagery, prints, and collage elements.”

2.  Dawoud Bey, 63, photographer and educator living in Chicago

“Dawoud Bey is using an expansive approach that creates new spaces of engagement within cultural institutions, making them more meaningful to and representative of the communities in which they are situated.” Continue reading “Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Dawoud Bey, Rhiannon Giddens, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Tyshawn Sorey and Jesmyn Ward Receive 2017 MacArthur “Genius” Grants”

Kansas City Teacher Darryl Chamberlin Creates Youth Orchestra With his Own Money

A-Flat Orchestra creator Darryl Chamberlain (photo via blackamericaweb.com)

by Michael H. Cottman via blackamericaweb.com

Darryl Chamberlain was determined to create a youth orchestra come hell or high water. In these uncertain times, where public school budget cuts are impacting African American students perhaps more than ever before, Chamberlain, a history teacher in Kansas City, Missouri, began thinking out of the box.

Chamberlain wants to change young lives through music but he had limited resources. So with the money he received playing piano in local churches, Chamberlain bought 70 used instruments, some from pawn shops, and cleaned them up for the students in his class.The result: The A-Flat Orchestra.

“The A-Flat Orchestra doesn’t have a funding arm behind it,” Chamberlain said, “just wit and ingenuity,” Chamberlain told The Kansas City Star. “And with a little ingenuity you can do anything.”

Chamberlain is delivering on a random act of kindness – a much-needed effort during a time when activities like music could be sacrificed in public schools across the country. “I’m doing more than teaching music,” Chamberlain, 59, told The Star. “I draw parallels to life situations and help them to understand how music connects to everyday life.”

He has assembled an orchestra of about 15 students so far but Chamberlain’s goal is to have a much larger symphony. He accepts all students regardless of their musical abilities. Chamberlain is shaping young lives every day and recent studies suggest that Chamberlain’s interaction with black students is critical.

Here is how Johns Hopkins University explains it: In a new study, low-income Black students who have at least one Black teacher in elementary school are significantly more likely to graduate high school and consider attending college, according to a study co-authored by a Johns Hopkins University economist. Having at least one Black teacher in third through fifth grades reduced a Black student’s probability of dropping out of school by 29 percent, the study found. For very low-income Black boys, the results are even greater – their chance of dropping out fell 39 percent.

Previous research has shown there are short-term benefits to pairing students with teachers of the same race, but this study, a new working paper published by the Institute of Labor Economics, demonstrates the positive impacts of having just one of these teachers can continue over many years. “Black students matched to black teachers have been shown to have higher test scores but we wanted to know if these student-teacher racial matches had longer-lasting benefits. We found the answer is a resounding yes,” co-author Nicolas Papageorge of Johns Hopkins said in a statement.

“We’re seeing spending just one year with a teacher of the same race can move the dial on one of the most frustratingly persistent gaps in educational attainment — that of low-income black boys. It not only moves the dial, it moves the dial in a powerful way.”Chamberlain is certainly moving the dial in Kansas City. “Music students have the lowest rate of teenage pregnancy, lower rates of violent crime,” Chamberlain told The Star. “

Source: Kansas City Man Creates Youth Orchestra With His Own Money | Black America Web

14-Year-Old Cello Prodigy Ifetayo Ali-Landing Wins Coveted National Music Competition

14 year-old cellist Ifetayo Ali-Landing (photo via blavity.com)

article via blavity.com

While most teens are consumed with navigating puberty, Ifetayo Ali-Landing is busy being a cello master. A student at the Hyde Park Suzuki Institute in Chicago, IL, Ali-Landing recently took home the coveted 1st place prize in the 2017 Annual Sphinx Competition.

Along with a $10,000 cash prize, the young prodigy will also have an opportunity to feature as a soloist with major orchestras and perform with the all black and Latino Sphinx Symphony Orchestra. This, along with a nationally-broadcast radio appearance on the prestigious NPR and PBS broadcasted talent showcase From the Top, the 14-year-old competitive musician is making her mark as a premier cellist.

Ali-Landing began playing the violin as a toddler before deciding to switch to cello at the age of 3. Since then, she has received numerous awards and performed in several showcases including the 2013 Friends of the IPO (Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra) Rising Stars Showcase where, at age 10, she recorded the 1st movement of the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No.1 in A minor.

The performance of which went viral with over 53,000 YouTube views and 8 million Facebook views.

Source: This 14-Year-Old Prodigy Cellist Won A Coveted National Music Competition | BLAVITY

FEATURE: Morris Robinson, the Unexpected Opera Star: ‘A Lot of the Purists, They Don’t Believe My Story’

Opera singer Morris Robinson (photo via latimes.com)

article by Christopher Smith via latimes.com

Opera is often called the most irrational art form. Seen through that lens, bass singer Morris Robinson’s unlikely career path makes wonderful sense.At a young age, from a family and culture that reveres singing, Robinson aspired to be a drummer instead. He ignored college music scholarships and conservatory programs for a free-ride to play football at a military college. Afterward, bypassing all thought of studying music at grad school, he worked for a Fortune 500 company in regional sales of data storage.

At 30, in finally attempting to sing professionally, he tried out for the chorus of “Aida” at the Boston Lyric Opera, the biggest company in New England. A week later, the music director handed him music for a solo role, accompanied by a plea: “Please don’t screw it up.”

“A lot of the purists, they don’t believe my story,” Robinson said. “They don’t believe it until they witness it themselves.”

Now 47 and equipped with 18 years of major roles with A-list companies nationally and internationally, Robinson has forged a life path in opera that seems inevitable in retrospect. After all, he was “the rare person,” L.A. Opera music director James Conlon said, “born with the great voice where strength predates technique. It’s a round, large voice.”

“A lot of people force their voices, they either yell or scream, which decays the quality of the sound. Morris himself is big, and that voice is right there without him having to make it that way, so he can sing with beautiful rounded sounds.”

Morris Robinson and Brenton Ryan in L.A. Opera’s “The Abduction From the Seraglio.” (Craig T. Mathew / Mathew Imaging)

With this level of vocal entitlement, Robinson might seem to be a natural. But throughout his life he seemed to ignore, even actively ward off, singing — though it was always around him.

Raised in a musical clan in Atlanta, Robinson had a dad, mom and three young sisters who all sang. Around 6, he participated in a church choir and then the Atlanta Boy Choir, alternately immersed in religious and secular music.  But singing was at best a backdrop, maybe even an obstacle. “I felt like I could do something special, but I could never figure out what it was,” he said.

“At first, I always was in the choirs, but to me, at heart, I was a drummer. Because if you’re going to be in a church in the South, there has to be rhythm. It was always about beats, beats, beats.”

He entered a performing arts high school. His senior year he made all-city band and all-state chorus.

But all he really cared about?

Continue reading “FEATURE: Morris Robinson, the Unexpected Opera Star: ‘A Lot of the Purists, They Don’t Believe My Story’”

In Case You Missed It: Aretha Franklin Takes the “National Anthem” to Church at Detroit Lions Game

Aretha.  National Anthem.  The Piano.  That Voice.  Game Over.

New “Musical Passage” Website via Duke University Explores Origins of African American Music

(Image via musicalpassage.org)
(Image via musicalpassage.org)

article via jbhe.com

Scholars at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, have debuted an interactive website that chronicles what is believed to be among the earliest examples of the music of the African diaspora. The website Musical Passage tells the story of an important, but little known record of early African diasporic music.

The project focuses on two pages of sheet music from Hans Sloane’s 1707 Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica It is believed to be the first transcription of African music in the Caribbean, and possibly, in the Americas.

The project was created by Mary Caton Lingold, a doctoral candidate in English at Duke, Laurent Dubois, a professor of Romance studies and history at Duke, and David K. Garner, a composer with Ph.D. from Duke who has been hired as an assistant professor of music at the University of South Carolina.

Lingold says that “you’d be hard pressed to name a living genre of music that enslaved musicians didn’t help to create or transform. Jazz, country, rock, blues, reggae and the list goes on. Turn on the radio and you are hearing these musicians’ story. But we don’t know a lot about their early music because it was not preserved in conventional ways. And that is why a little artifact like this is so important, because it helps us to know more about what their performances may have sounded like.”

Business Titan Robert F. Smith Named Carnegie Hall’s 1st African-American Chairman

Robert F. Smith, 53, elected chairman of the Carnegie Hall Board of Directors on Thursday. (Credit: Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times)

article by Michael Cooper and David Gelles via nytimes.com

Robert F. Smith, the private equity titan who was named the richest African-American man by Forbes last year after making a fortune in software, also has a quirky musical side.

He owns one of Elton John’s old pianos. He hired John Legend and Seal — and a youth orchestra — to perform at his wedding last summer on the Amalfi Coast. His youngest sons, Hendrix and Legend, are named after Jimi Hendrix and Mr. Legend. And he bought and refurbished a retreat in the Rocky Mountains that was beloved by jazz musicians, including Duke Ellington.

On Thursday, Mr. Smith’s intersecting worlds of money, philanthropy and music came together when he was named the chairman of Carnegie Hall, the nation’s most prestigious concert stage. He became the first African-American to hold the post at a time when diversity at leading cultural organizations lags — a recent survey of New York’s cultural institutions found that nearly 78 percent of their board members were white.

“Carnegie Hall is perfectly placed to champion not only artistic excellence, but also access and exposure to the best music in the world,” Mr. Smith said in a statement.

The election of Mr. Smith, 53, who played an old upright piano while growing up in Denver and was told that with enough practice he might make it to Carnegie one day, brings to an end a low moment at the hall. The billionaire Ronald O. Perelman served as its chairman for less than a year before stepping down last fall after he alienated the board by clashing with the hall’s executive and artistic director, Clive Gillinson.

After shunning the spotlight for years, Mr. Smith, who is based in Austin, Tex., where the private equity firm he founded, Vista Equity Partners, has its headquarters, has recently taken a more public role — starting a foundation, the Fund II Foundation; giving commencement addresses; and donating money. His alma mater, Cornell University, renamed its School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering for him earlier this year after he announced a $50 million gift.

Unlike Carnegie’s most recent chairmen, Mr. Perelman and Sanford I. Weill, the former Citigroup chairman, Mr. Smith does not come from the world of New York finance, and he has not been a major fixture on the city’s social scene — he is more known for flying in to attend events in the city and then flying out. But his work outside the city with investors and tech firms could provide entree to new potential donors in the coming years.

Continue reading “Business Titan Robert F. Smith Named Carnegie Hall’s 1st African-American Chairman”

Maryland Votes To Remove References To Confederacy From State Song

Historic Maryland State House in Annapolis, Maryland, USA
Historic Maryland State House in Annapolis, Maryland, USA

article by Desire Thompson via newsone.com

The Maryland Senate voted on Thursday in favor of removing lyrics connected to the Confederacy from their state song, The Washington Post reports.

The 38-to-8 decision occurred Thursday after debate about the song, Maryland, My Maryland.” It was penned by James Ryder Randall in 1861 following the death of his friend, who was shot while protesting against Union troops. The lyrics represent the anger Randall felt towards the North and calls on Marylanders to join the South’s battle against the Union.

Lyrics from the song (including those calling Northerners “scum”) will be replaced with a poem by John T. White about the state’s appearance and natural beauty.

Via The Washington Post:

“I think it’s time to get rid of the verse that basically criticizes and makes us look bad,” said Sen. Ronald N. Young (D-Frederick). “The [song] is degrading to Maryland and should not represent us moving forward.”

However, Sen. Robert G. Cassilly (R-Harford) said Maryland should use the opportunity as a teaching lesson, instead of erasing bad moments from history.

Listen to “Maryland, My Maryland” by clicking here and read the poem here.