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Classically Black

Classically Black

Black classical musicians have been composing substantial music for centuries. This February, we shined the spotlight on a score… one every weekday… of great composers with roots in Africa.

We met Le Mozart Noir… the man who not only was a world-famous swordsman, but an acknowledged master of the violin bow and the composing quill, playing duets with Queen Marie Antoinette. We visited a city of Creole musical dynasties, when New Orleans was home to the finest orchestras in the new world. We rediscovered a woman tirelessly composing in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, many of whose works were likewise rediscovered: in a dilapidated downstate summer house, leading to a worldwide wave of interest in her music. And we heard a sinfonietta by a 2oth century New York composer… who himself was named after an Afro-English composer whose interest in American music made him a 19th century fan favorite in the U.S.

Looking for the music? TSPR Music Director Ken Zahnle shares all the compositions he featured on Ovation on a Spotify playlist.
  • Thank You for helping make February Classically… Black!
  • James Lee III was born in 1975 in St. Joseph, Michigan, and began studying piano at what he considers a late age…12… when his father signed him up for lessons without his knowledge
  • It’s time to meet Performance Today's 2020 Classical Woman of the Year.A child of the 1970’s, Valerie Coleman hails from the traditionally black West End neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky.
  • Wynton Marsalis is the most famed member of a New Orleans musical dynasty. Born in 1961 to prominent jazz pianist and teacher Ellis Marsalis, he was named for another jazz great, pianist Wynton Kelly, and he got his first trumpet at age 6 from another famed trumpeter, Al Hirt.
  • Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson was fated to write music. He was born in 1932 and raised in Manhattan, the child of a mother active in the arts as a piano teacher, church organist, and director of a theater company… who named her son after the great African-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
  • Born in Chicago in 1913 to an activist family, Margaret Bonds began her studies with the best of Bronzeville… composers Florence Beatrice Price and William Levi Dawson.
  • Fela Sowande was born outside Lagos, Nigeria in 1905, the son of an Anglican Priest. Growing up a choirboy, he was taken under the wing of Nigerian church music pioneer Dr. T.K Ekundayo Philips, learning Bach and other European composers on the organ, as well as new native Yoruba works being introduced into the church service.
  • Edward Kennedy Ellington was born and raised in Washington D.C.’s West End neighborhood.
  • William Levi Dawson ran away from home in 1912 to study music at the Tuskegee Institute. Working through school as a music librarian… and a laborer on the Agriculture Department farm… he was a member of the Institute’s band and orchestra, as well as composing and touring with the Tuskegee Singers.
  • James P. Johnson grew up in New York City listening to the rags of Scott Joplin and studying classical piano and theory with an Italian teacher.