Black classical musicians, singers and composers

Sylvia Lambert

Assistant Arts Editor

As we look back on Black history month, it is important to acknowledge the contribution that African Americans have made to music: specifically classical and instrumental music. This includes choral music, band and orchestra composers as well as instrumental and vocal soloists.

Globally, the rap genre has been heavily influenced by Black voices. This is also said about pop and hip-hop music. These popular, modern genres are clearly being represented by many Black artists. If their presence and influence are discredited in this area, that action could only be based on ignorance.

While the success of Black artists in the pop culture and entertainment musical arts is obvious, their immense impact on the classical genre of music is not as well known. It is less often we find ourselves crediting more conservative art forms like classical music to African Americans.

This is a disproportional viewpoint, because many gifted composers, instrumentalists and performers that contribute to the advancement and culture of musical arrangement and classical music in general are African Americans.

One example of a very influential classic music musician is Moses Hogan. He was a pianist, conductor and arranger known internationally. Born in 1957 during a time of great civil unrest, Hogan paved the way for many other artists like him.

During his studies he attended four different colleges. This included New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, New York’s Juilliard School of Music and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Hogan was incredibly successful as a concert pianist. He even won first place at the 28th annual Kosciuszko Foundation Chopin Competition held in New York. He also was paid to compose the soundtrack for a PBS documentary “The American Promise.”

In 1998 ,his musical group The Moses Hogan Singers made their debut. His discography includes many of their spirituals. He also produced and arranged many other spirituals with different artists.

In the category of opera and vocal performance, Pretty Yende is an internationally renowned soprano opera singer. She was born in Piet Retief, South Africa in 1985. After making her professional debut in 2010, she has performed at almost every major theatre in the world including Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Opéra National de Paris, Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Staatsoper Berlin, Bayerischer Staatsoper in Munich, Opernhaus Zürich and Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona.

The Washington Post wrote that Yende has, “a voice that can reach the stars.”

Yende has also found success in recording music. Her debut album, “A Journey”, was released in 2016 with Sony Classical. Her second solo album, called “Dreams,” is now available everywhere. Her ethereal voice has captured the hearts of opera lovers across the globe. Although she has already had a successful career, at the age of 35, she has many more plans to share her voice with the world.

Another very influential and successful African American classical artists is Sanford Allen: a professional violinist. At the age of only 10 years old he started studying music at the Julliard School of Music. In 1959 he accomplished a huge milestone for the Black community. He became the first African American to be a regular member of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He stayed with them until 1977.

Allen also has performed recitals across the world. His other solo performances with symphonies include the Symphony of the New World, the Quebec Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony, the Miami Philharmonic and the Detroit Symphony. He also taught in the music department at multiple universities. He has been the first to perform many contemporary composers’ music. His accomplishments are many and he is known nationally for his incredible talent.

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