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.

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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

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.

Tahirah Whittington, cello

Feb 19, 2020
Fionn O'lochlainn

Tahirah Whittington, originally from Houston, TX, has performed for audiences in the United States, Chile, France, Italy, Spain, Canada, Bermuda, St. Kitts, and Japan. Solo engagements include a performance with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC, as a result of winning 1st prize at the 1999 Sphinx Competition.

Taylor Raven, mezzo-soprano

Feb 19, 2020

  Ms. Raven is a recipient of a 2017 Sara Tucker career grant from the Richard Tucker Foundation. Other highlights from the 2016/17 season include her Seattle Opera debut as Hannah After in Laura Kaminsky’s As One. She was a fellow with the Ravinia Festival, performed as Oronte in Handel’s Riccardo Primo and Hannah after in As One with Pittsburgh Opera as a Resident Artist, and was a member of the 2016 San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program. After her residency with the latter, she returned to present a Schwabacher debut recital with Mark Morash at the piano.

Morris Robinson, bass

Feb 19, 2020

Morris Robinson is considered one the most interesting and sought after basses performing today.

John Holiday, countertenor

Feb 19, 2020
Fay Fox

Countertenor John Holiday has quickly established himself as a fast-rising singer to watch and “one of the finest countertenors of his generation” (Los Angeles Times). His voice has been praised as “a thing of astonishing beauty” (New Yorker), “arrestingly powerful, secure and dramatically high” (Wall StreetJournal), “exceptional [and] strong...even in its highest range” (The New York Times) and “timeless”(Washington Post)

Julia Bullock, soprano

Feb 19, 2020

Julia Bullock was born in St. Louis, Missouri, where she joined the artist-in-training program at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis while in high school. She went on to earn her Bachelor’s degree at the Eastman School of Music, her Master’s degree in Bard College’s Graduate Vocal Arts Program, and her Artist Diploma at New York’s Juilliard School. It was there that she first met her husband, conductor Christian Reif, with whom she now lives in Munich.The Met residency crowned a banner 2018-19 season for Bullock.

Pretty Yende, soprano

Feb 11, 2020
Photo: Gregor Hohenberg/Sony Music Entertainment

A modern fairy-tale.

Lawrence Brownlee, tenor

Feb 11, 2020

  With an ever-increasing balance in opera, recital, and concerts, Lawrence Brownlee has cemented his place as one of the top artists in classical music. He is a regular guest at the world’s most important opera houses including The Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Royal Opera House - Covent Garden, Bayerische Staatsoper, Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Opéra national de Paris, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Teatro Real, Opernhaus Zürich, and Wiener Staatsoper. He is a fixture at the world’s top recital venues including Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, and The Kennedy Center.

Russell Thomas, tenor

Feb 11, 2020

 Acclaimed for his “voice of intrinsic warmth and refined sense of style” (Opera News), Mr. Thomas has enjoyed a string of operatic triumphs in recent seasons, including performances as Don Carlo at Washington National Opera and Deutsche Oper Berlin; Cavaradossi in Tosca at Los Angeles Opera and Los Angeles Philharmonic; and Pollione in Norma at Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Canadian Opera Company, and Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia.

J'Nai Bridges, mezzo-soprano

Feb 11, 2020

J’Nai Bridges, known for her “plush-voiced mezzo-soprano” (The New York Times), has been heralded as “a rising star” (Los Angeles Times), gracing the world’s top stages. Her 2019-2020 operatic engagements in the U.S.

Mary Elizabeth Williams, soprano

Feb 11, 2020

  Mary Elizabeth Williams is a native of Philadelphia. Her career has taken her all over the globe in a careening zig-zag pattern—and she is grateful for every moment. Not long after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Luther College in Iowa, she began her first professional singing engagement with the national Broadway tour of SHOWBOAT, which toured 9 U.S. cities in 12 months. While performing in Milwaukee, she met Dr. Constance Haas, the voice teacher with whom she studies to this day.