Classical Music: Black and Latino Musicians Hope to Change the Image of the Art Form
Clark, Anna, Colorlines Magazine
PLAYWRIGHT LORRAINE HANSBERRY coined the phrase 'young, gifted, and Black' ... and hit a nerve. Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin are among the many who have borrowed the phrase to spotlight the predicament of being an artist of color, to "have a lovely precious dream," as Simone put it, in a whitewashed society.
The point is pushed to crisis in classical music. While Asian musicians have found a place in classical music--and, consequentlly, in audiences--Black and Latinos have not. With the exception of ethnic celebration concerts, stages and audiences remain heavily white. Nationwide, less than three percent of the members of symphony orchestras are Black or Latino. An analysis of 200 U.S. orchestras by the American Symphony Orchestra League in the 2000-01 season found that 1.4 percent of musicians were Black and 1.9 percent were Latino. For Black musicians, the numbers actually declined from a similar survey in the early '90s.
That's not to say that artists of color haven't influenced classical music. George Walker made headlines in 1996 as the first living Black man to win the Pulitzer Prize in music. (Scott Joplin posthumously won the honor in 1976, more than half a century after his death.) Walker's prizewinning composition Lilacs for Voice and Orchestra is a 16-minute piece that matches instrumental music with a tenor singing text from Walt Whitman's poem "While Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom'd," which reflects on Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Lilacs was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and features complicated rhythms, melodies and time changes. While Lilacs may be his most famous work, Walker has published more than 70 compositions in a variety of forms, and his music is performed regularly across North America and Europe.
Walker's Pulitzer was followed by Wynton Marsalis's 1997 win. Marsalis, a Black genre-bending trumpeter and composer, took the prize for Blood on the Fields, a three-hour oratorio for three singers and a 14-member ensemble that follows the story of an African couple sold into slavery in the U.S. Blood is a hybrid of classical and jazz musical traditions. In an interview with PBS, Marsalis said that he uses the language of jazz in Blood's …
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Publication information: Article title: Classical Music: Black and Latino Musicians Hope to Change the Image of the Art Form. Contributors: Clark, Anna - Author. Magazine title: Colorlines Magazine. Volume: 10. Issue: 1 Publication date: January-February 2007. Page number: 47+. © 2009 Color Lines Magazine. COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group.
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