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 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.
 

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.

Lester Lynch, baritone

Feb 11, 2020

  Lester Lynch, an established dramatic baritone, is making his mark in some of the world’s leading opera houses. Known for his charismatic portrayals and commanding voice, he is receiving rave reviews as he masters some of the most important baritone roles from Scarpia to Rigoletto to Count di Luna.

Brandie Sutton, soprano

Feb 11, 2020

  Hailed by The New York times for her "warm, ample voice" and "distinctive earthy coloring," and by Opera News for her "sumptuos, mid-weight soprano," Ms. Sutton first embraced classical music during her undergraduate studies at Oakwood University where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Music with a concentration in voice. She now holds a Master in Music degree from The Benjamin T. Rome School of Music at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Isaiah Jackson, conductor

Feb 5, 2020

Jackson founded the Juilliard String Ensemble and was its first conductor 1970-71. He was associate or assistant conductor with the American Symphony Orchestra (1970-71) where he worked with Leopold Stokowski; the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (1971-73); and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (1973-87). He was appointed music director of the Flint Symphony Orchestra (Flint, Michigan) in 1982, the first black music director of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra in 1987 , and principal conductor of The Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, in 1986, and became its music director 1987-90.

https://www.mercurynews.com/

Conductor Michael Morgan, music director of the Oakland Symphony in California, will make his San Francisco Symphony debut April 30-May 2, 2020. Morgan will bring a whole new program to the symphony.  The concert will include a performance of Florence Price's 1940 Symphony No. 3, the first local performance of Carlos Simon's 2019 work AMEN! as well as Brahms' Alto Rhapsody with mezzo-soprano Melody Wilson, and Franck's The Cursed Huntsman.

https://www.classical915.org/

February of each year is designated as Black History Month and throughout the month Classical 91.5 hosts will be introducing you to composers, performers and conductors of African descent past and present.  We are also building a resource of musicians of color on our website, On Demand at Classical Musicians of African Descent (CMAD). These pages are a work in progress and we look forward to adding new musicians of color to our resource throughout the year.

Lena Fankhauser, viola

Jan 29, 2020

Lena Fankhauser is a native of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. At age 12 she attended the Yehudi Menuhin School in England and studied violin. She attended the Young Artists Program at the Cleveland Institute of Music, studying with David Cerone before receiving both her Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from the Juilliard School which she attended on full scholarship. Her postgraduate studies took place at the Mozarteum in Salzburg with Thomas Riebl. 

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