Black Classical Musicians Rewriting the Odds

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The numbers tell it all: African-Americans comprise less than three percent of musicians in U.S. orchestras. Those numbers aren't significantly different when it comes to the country’s opera companies or chamber-music ensembles. Lack of supportive role models, music program budget cuts and the elitist stereotype of classical musicians all contribute to this staggeringly low figure. While there are no simple solutions, we can learn from the experiences of prominent black musicians who have carved their own paths.

In this special podcast on African-Americans in classical music, Terrance McKnight sits down with three guests: Anthony McGill, the principal clarinetist at the Metropolitan Opera; Morris Robinson, a bass who regularly sings at prestigious houses like the Met, LA Opera and Atlanta Opera; and Kelly Hall-Tompkins, a violinist who performs with several groups including the Mark O’Connor String Quartet.

This podcast was produced by Brian Wise. Stay tuned for part two next week.


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Comments [6]



Jun. 01 2012 03:06 PM
Wilmer Wise from Brooklyn, NY

For more than 30 years I was Principal Trumpet of the Brooklyn Philharmonic. I was the first Black Musician in the Baltimore Symphony in the 60s. First Black faculty member at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.
My hometown is Philadelphia. I was one of the first black players to crack the color line in Philly.
I can be seen playing trumpet on the West Side Story recording conducted by Bernstein.
There are MANY stories of blacks in classical music who have been ignored by the public!

Aug. 17 2011 09:42 PM
Sarah Gill from NYC/Nassau County NY.

Terrence, first love your shows in general and this one as well. Second, I've just finished an extensive research paper on inequalities in music education for my admin paper, I am completing my certification in Educational Administration and I have been a music teacher for 10 years and a musician for (ahem) 20. I'd like to continue my research and get this information publicized and acted upon. Our young people deserve it. Contact me and I'd be honored to discuss

May. 10 2011 11:33 PM
Nancy Hill

First of all, classical music study should began at the pre-school level. Asians do that. 2nd, find the right teacher. One who wants your child to succeed. This is easier said then done. Monitor your childs lessons, if your child is not progressing,, find another teacher. Remember its your child and your money. Watch out for unfair treatment towards your child. ex. giving other children opportunities, but not your child, slowing your childs progress down by overlooking their achievements. Promotion in the youth orchester's according to their teacher and not the childs skills. Most of these so called top teachers will not take your child as a student. I know of what I speak, my daughter received her undergrade degree in Violin Performance from a Big Ten University.

Feb. 25 2011 12:28 PM
John J. Christiano from Franklin NJ

I'm not sure where the answer lies but we had better figure it out soon. When you consider the richness of the music born of the African-American experience, can you imagine what's yet to be realized in the classical genre?

Look out over the cities and just think of what may be lying dormant there. While there may be plenty more Joplins, Ellingtons and Basies, etc., etc., statsically, there's got to be much more.

My fear is that the black musical experience has become too complacent and satisfied with its successes in gansta rap and hip-hop. They have allowed their own culture to define their horizons.

Leontyne Price and Kathleen Battle are virtual unknowns. Wynton Marsalis...who's he?

Somehow we need to search out the young, promising musicians and somehow get them into the programs that will bring out their talents.

Feb. 18 2011 08:55 AM
LES from Washington, DC

Should be an interesting discussion, Terrence. I watched your interview with John Adams and Peter Sellers on Nixon and China and noticed there did not appear to be another black person in the room other than you and the pianist, although I cannot say for sure since I was not there in person. So it'll be interesting to hear what your guests, who are all classical musicians, have to say on the subject of why and whether classical music should reach out to more blacks and vice versa, both as musicians and audience members. Tavis Smiley recently did a piece on Gustavo Dudamel and his desire to expose young people, all young people, to classical music, and featured a young boy, who happened to be black, saying it was his dream one day to be a percussionost in the LA Phil. Very moving. He obviously got the right exposure to classical music (from his parents, I think) and was bitten by the bug.

I don't at all feel that classical music is the exclusive province of Western culture. Look at the number of classically-trained Asian musicians. Classical music education is apparently exploding in China. Why there and not here?

Feb. 18 2011 08:30 AM

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