Black History meets Classical Music

Monday, February 08, 2010 - 07:32 PM

If you’ve been going to classical music concerts for more than twenty years, you’ll probably agree that the racial make-up of the orchestra and the audience has remained largely non-black.

Compared to other music industries in our culture classical music seems to be behind the winds of change. When I taught a Music Appreciation course at Morehouse College, my students were always amazed and bewildered by the number of black composers, performers, and educators in the field. In honor of Black history Month, I'd like your help in compiling a list of black men and women who've made and are making contributions in the world of classical music. Thanks!

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Comments [22]

Apey2f from NYC

Haitian-American composer/violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR). You've had him on your show in the past.

Apr. 20 2010 02:35 PM
Freya Goldstein from NYC

How about Marian Anderson and the many African American opera stars?

Apr. 09 2010 06:37 PM
Eveth from hackensack

Just reading these enlightening..I just started listening to classical music thanks to Mr. McKnight. I have been hooked since. I will be coming back to write down all the names mentioned so that I can have them in my music library. This is such an exciting journey for me, that is why I especially love to listen to this station because music is not just played but you provide music enlightenment, especially for a new comer such as I. Hats off to these great influences of our heritage!

Apr. 04 2010 02:27 PM
Murton from New Jereey

Terrance, you are so right about the lack of African Americans in the concert hall...however, to provide a venue for AA composers and performers on America's flagship classical station would be a welcome change...and I agree with another poster here who notes that jazz is the classical music of black Americans...a program dedicated to any of the giants of the genre would be welcome...and I would love to hear a show about Louis Armstrong...

Mar. 31 2010 05:56 AM
Jacob Bass

Leontyne Price.

Feb. 28 2010 02:24 PM
Alex Lemski from Morristown, N.J.

Agree, Jazz is America's "Black Classical Music", so every African-American from Scott Joblin to Armsttrong, Bird, 'Trane, Cecil Talor and the Art Ensemble is "Classical". Nevertheless, you should check out pianist Muhal Richard Abrams performing Contemporary (European) Classical music; Roscoe Mitchell accompanying Joe Kubera; and how about Anthony Braxton and Anothony Davis, not to forget Wyton Marsalis and even better, Ron Miles!. Glad you're here, Terrance!

Feb. 26 2010 08:28 PM
Ralph Curtis from NEWARK,NJ


Feb. 25 2010 04:38 PM
WS Cohen from Bronx, NY

I'm not sure if you consider the Bernstein MASS a classical work, but in 2008, I saw a performance of the piece at the United Palace Theater in Washington Heights. It featured an extraordinary baritone named Jubilant Sykes as The Celebrant.

Feb. 23 2010 11:15 PM
Holliday Haynes from Freeport, Long Island

First -- love hearing you on WQXR.......loved listening to you on WNYC too. From historical perspective -- there's George Walker -- wonderful composer, Moses Hogan -- extraordinary pianist (went to Oberlin w/him) from New Orleans who went on to arrange and compose wonderful spirituals, formed excellent choir in NO, etc. Andre Watts never quite got the recognition he deserves as an African American. I guess I do not need to mention the opera singers from the last century..........including those that sang in original Joplin operattas, original Porgy and Bess...........

Feb. 19 2010 04:42 PM
Larry from New Joisey

Well I must say that you, Terrence, are making a big contributiuion to blacks in classical music, yourself. So put yourself on the list.

From a casual observers perspective, I think you make the genre very interesting, very approachable, very bring it in close so we can touch it and feel it.

For example, what ever you played last night, Tuesday, the 16th, pretty much blew me away. Must have been 45 min to an hour long.

It was mesmerizing, though a little disturbing with the gun-shot-like sounds in the middle of the piece. Overall, it captured the African polyrythmic cultural sensibility within the choral classical musicality very well.

Feb. 17 2010 08:44 PM
Tucker Ranson from Manhattan

See the website

Feb. 13 2010 09:30 AM
Barry Lenson from Millburn, New Jersey

And let's not forget that Alexander Pushkin, the national poet of Russia and the author of Eugene Onegin, was partially of African descent.

Feb. 12 2010 01:37 PM
Barry Lenson from Millburn, New Jersey

When I was growing up back in the 1950s, my family had some recordings of orchestral music composed by Ulysses Kay. Kay had been at the Yaddo art colony with my father, the painter Michael Lenson, and they became friends. I remember that his music was really top-notch. Your inquiry makes we want to do some Googling for more information, and maybe to find some recordings.

Feb. 12 2010 01:31 PM
SusanW from NYC

Surprised that no one has mentioned the brilliant William Grant Still, whose music I first heard on WQXR many years ago.

Another genius, Carl Hancock Rux (who I first saw perform at BAM's "The Temptation of Saint Anthony") has written a fantastic opera, "The Blackamoor Angel." It tells the story of Angelo Soliman, an African in 18th-century Vienna and a close friend of Mozart. I saw it workshopped at Joe's Pub last year and it was astonishing.

Feb. 11 2010 09:06 PM
Frank Feldman

There are those who consider jazz America's most original and enduring contribution to world musical culture and there, of course, the list is endless. Being white is the exception.

Feb. 11 2010 03:51 PM
William Martin

It's Wednesday, Feb. 10th. and this evening you played Scott Joplin's "A Real Slow Drag". That particular piece was played within the past week or so on the same radio station. I'm sure that you know that there is also other memorable music from that opera.
I'm as WASP as you can get, but I directed a successful production of TREEMONISHA in Richmond, VA.; and I am appalled at the "short change" that you of all people would give Mr. Joplin's work. There are many other remarkable selections from his opera, which could be played -- for instance "Aunt Dinah Has Blowed de Horn" -- a brief but wonderful choral piece; and "We Will Trust You as Our Leader" with Treemonisha and the Chorus.

Also, there are other selections by Coplin which deserve listening; i.e., "I Am Thinking of My Pickanniny Days (1901), "Little Black Baby" (1903), and "When Your Hair Is Like the Snow" (1907). [Good music and with an historic verberation!] My concern: why do you do your people such "short shrift"? Scott Coplin MUST be reckoned with.

Feb. 10 2010 10:54 PM
Nancy de Flon from Metro NY

Hi Terrance, for a really gifted black composer check out Alvin Singleton. His website is I knew him when he was starting out and always admired his music.

Feb. 10 2010 08:49 PM
Alan Sperber

I would like to make sure that the name of the late Noel DaCosta is on your list of African-Americans could contributed to classical music. He was a pupil of Countee Cullen in public school in Harlem and went on to become a violinist. He studied composition with Luigi Dallapiccola in Italy. He taught music at Rutgers University for much of his life and left behind a number of musical works that you may find interesting .

Feb. 10 2010 06:06 PM
Janet Fisher from NYC

Faure Requiem was just performed this past Thursday @ St. James Episcopal Church, 71st & Madison by the Voices of Ascension and one of the soloists was an African American Kevin Deas. Here is a link to one of his pages:

Feb. 09 2010 09:27 PM
Deborah Alexander from Warren NJ

Terence I became a fan when you joined, just as our own finances fell apart and made it too tough to stay financial backers, but want you to know that I love your shows and your choice of music and your sense of humor! [Here's hoping we all survive the downturn, so our household budget can once again include donations!]

I would like to 'nominate' my dear friend of almost 25 years now - who was my long time accompanist from the days when I was doing performances myself [before changing careers out of classical music]

She is Althea Waites, an extraordinary Yale-educated pianist, frequent Master Class presenter at Smith, and she is a champion of under-appreciated but fabulous music by black composers.
One earlier CD is called
Black Diamonds (cambria CD-1097) where she plays music by Florence Price,Margaret Bonds and William Grant Still. I hope you will play that as well as her newer CD.
Please please please give this wonderful woman some air time :):):) here's her website

Feb. 09 2010 11:57 AM
Andrea Berger from NYC

I heard your call for information last night on your program...Mr. McKnight, please check out the works composed by Jeffrey Mumford, a wonderful contemporary composer. You can visit his site, too:

Feb. 09 2010 11:33 AM
Frank Feldman

There's no opportunity to comment on the overnights, so I'll do it here. Steve Sullivan is wonderful! I am always so happy when I hear his voice at midnight!

Feb. 08 2010 11:22 PM

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