Classical 91.5

Classical Musicians of African Descent

WXXI Classical 91.5 is in the process of building a resource of photos and brief biographical information about musicians of African descent. This resource is by no means complete, and we rely on you to help us build the site by sharing your information. Please click on the alphabetical groupings below to begin your discovery.

Search for Artist by Last Name:
A-E    F-J    K-O    P-T    U-Z

People of African heritage have made enduring contributions to classical music throughout history. There have been countless accomplished Black classical conductors, composers and performers (both instrumentalists and singers) who have enriched classical music as long as it has existed.

The Classical Musicians of African Descent (CMAD) pages were begun in partnership with the Gateways Music Festival at the Eastman School of Music (part of the University of Rochester) and will be a growing and changing resource for your information and research. We encourage you to visit the pages and if there are musicians that should be included, please write to us at classical@wxxi.org.

One such pioneer is the late Maestro Paul Freeman (1936-2015) who earned his bachelor, masters and doctoral degrees from the Eastman School of Music. Maestro Freeman founded the Chicago Sinfonietta as a mid-size orchestra dedicated to the causes of promoting diversity, innovative programming and celebrating the legacies of minority composers.

Here in Rochester, the Gateways Music Festival, in Association with the Eastman School of Music, has celebrated the contribution of classical musicians of African descent, biennially since 1995. Like Gateways Founder Armenta Adams (Hummings) Dumisani, Maestro Freeman passionately worked toward “opening the doors of classical music to everyone.”

With the assistance of the Gateways Music Festival, we have compiled a significant listing of classical musicians of African descent for your reference. Among the musicians listed are members of American symphony orchestras, college and university music school faculty, as well as concert and freelance artists.
 

https://www.alamhof.org/

Jason Max Ferdinand, Associate Professor and Director of Choral Activities at Oakwood University (Huntsville, AL), takes a new approach to choral directing.  In 2019 he took his ensemble, the Aeolians of Oakwood University, to the American Choral Directors Association's national conference where the singers blew away the audience by challenging racial biases in the choral world with their outstanding performances of traditional Western classical songs and Black music. 

https://www.classicalmpr.org/

On the birth anniversary of internationally acclaimed opera singer Leontyne Price, we bring you a collection of powerful songs, stories and interviews with some of today’s most acclaimed Black Artists and Scholars. This program was curated with the intent of creating awareness around the African American musical past, while inspiring listeners to cling to the hopefulness of our musical future together as every voice is heard and celebrated.

https://www.stolaf.edu/profile/tesfa

Born and raised in Memphis, with an impressive collection of opinions on barbecue, Tesfa Wondemagegnehu learned early on from one of his mentors that “Excellence is never an accident.” Through the love and dedication of music teachers with whom he has studied, and an abundance of grit and determination, Tesfa has risen to be one of the most sought-after conductors and educators in the country and is on the cutting edge of music-related social justice movements throughout the United States.​

https://naguandanobles.com

NaGuanda Nobles discovered a love for singing at an early age. Mrs. Nobles accepted a fullscholarship to attend The Florida State University (FSU) and received her BM and MM degrees inVoice Performance. Receiving rave reviews for her “big, warming soprano with a lovely shimmering top that she uses with a ravishing effect,” Mrs. Nobles has made her mark on the concert and operatic stages all across the world.

https://www.facebook.com/

As the 2020 Gateways Music Festival launches its first-ever all-virtual festival, WXXI Classical celebrates the week with a tribute program featuring all music from black composers, including Adolphus Hailstork, Florence Price and Michael Abels. We'll also hear a unique arrangement of the Black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," all performed by the Gateways Music Festival Orchestra recorded live at the Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre in Rochester, New York in August 2019.

Life as a Black Classical Pianist

Aug 12, 2020
Provided

Editor’s note:  Canadian pianist Luke Welch says he feels like a unicorn in the world of classical music.  Luke was born and grew up in Mississauga, Ontario. He played his first public performance at age seven.  He’s passionate, talented, and sometimes bewildered by how he’s been treated.  I hope his account of his experiences will move you as much as it moves me.  ~ Brenda Tremblay

Luke Welch, pianist

Jul 8, 2020
https://harryjeromeawards.com/

Award-winning Canadian pianist Luke Welch was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and grew up nearby in Mississauga. He graduated from Western University in Canada with Bachelor and Master of Music degrees, and completed additional graduate studies in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

https://www.musicbyblackcomposers.org/2017/08/25/undine-smith-moore/

The granddaughter of slaves, Undine Smith Moore’s first musical memories were of the Morningstar Baptist Church in Jarratt, Virginia. She received a scholarship from the Julliard School to study music at Fisk University, and later studied composition at the Manhattan School of Music and the Eastman School. Undine was a co-founder of the Black Music Center at Virginia State College, and today she is known as the “Dean of Black Women Composers.”

Ayanna Witter-Johnson, cello

Feb 26, 2020

  Singer, songwriter, cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson is a rare exception to the rule that classical and alternative r&b music cannot successfully coexist.

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