Posted on January 31, 2019

george walker and piano

George Walker, composer.

Article by Intern Ava Price.

The United States officially established February as Black History Month in 1976. It is a time to highlight and celebrate the achievements of African Americans throughout United States history. All Classical Portland will be joining the celebration of Black History Month, featuring some of the best recordings of composers of African origin (American, and around the world). We put a special focus on composers and performers of African descent on February 1, and throughout Black History Month, but these composers have long been a regular part of the fabric of All Classical Portland’s playlist. Each February we also share additional pieces as they become available on recordings.

Classical music has been dominated by white men. African-American composers to this day remain on the fringes of the classical music institution. Due to social prejudice and institutional racism African American composers have a hard time entering the classical music canon. However, since the twentieth century African Americans have made quite the impact on the symphony and more.

One of those composers is Florence Price. Florence Price was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1887. She was one of three children in a biracial family. Her mother was a music teacher who guided her early music training. When she was eleven, she published her first composition. By the time she was fourteen she was already enrolled at the New England Conservatory of Music. After her graduation she became the head of the music department at Clark Atlanta University. In 1927 she and her family moved to Chicago after a series of racial incidents. She then started pursuing a compositional career.

On June 15,1933 the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed the premiere of her “Symphony No. 1 in E minor.” She became the first African American female composer to have a symphony performed by a major American orchestra. Although she received instant acclaim, she would continue to struggle to be a successful composer due to systematic racism. In recent years though, there has been a rediscovery of Florence Price’s music. In 2009, a substantial amount of her compositions and papers were found in an abandoned house near St. Anne, Illinois. They found dozens of her scores, including her two violin concertos and her fourth symphony.

On Friday, February 1st, All Classical Portland will debut a new CD (Naxos label) of her Symphony No. 4 in D minor (world premiere recording), 11am hour; Symphony No 1 in E minor (1932), 8pm hour

On Saturday, February 2nd, The Concert Hall we will feature her Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, 8pm hour.

Famous African- American contralto Marian Anderson was a pioneer for African American musicians. In 1939 the Daughters of the American Revolution did not allow Marian to sing to an integrated audience at Constitution Hall. At the time of the performance Washington DC was segregated and black audiences were upset they had to sit at the back of the concert hall. As a result, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and thousands of other members resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution. Eleanor Roosevelt, President Roosevelt, and Executive Secretary of the NAACP convinced the secretary of the interior to arrange an open-air concert at the Lincoln Memorial. On Easter Sunday, April 9th, 1939 Marian gave a performance in front of 75,000 people and to millions more on the radio. She concluded her concert with a piece by Florence Price called “My Souls been Anchored in the Lord.” In her later years she moved in with her nephew, Oregon Symphony conductor James DePreist, here in Portland.

Another composer we will be highlighting this February is William Grant Still. Known as the “Dean of African-American Classical Composers” he composed more than 150 works including five symphonies and eight operas. He was the first African- American composer to have an opera produced by the New York City Opera. He was the first African American to conduct a major American orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic. However, he is most known for his Symphony No.1 “Afro-American”, which until the 1950s was the most widely performed symphony composed by an American.

On Friday, February 1st, All Classical Portland will play Still’s Miniatures for Flute, Oboe and Piano (Sierra Wind Quintet)

On Saturday, February 2nd, The Concert Hall will feature Symphony No. 1, “Afro-American”

Pacific Northwest-based composer and professor, Obo Addy, will also be featured this February. Obo Addy was born in Ghana and his father, Jacob Kpani Addy, a wonche or a medicine man who used rhythmic music to heal people. He played his traditional Ga music at the 1972 Summer Olympics. In 1978 he moved to Portland, Oregon where he taught for many years at Lewis & Clark College. In 1996, he won the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts, which is the highest honor in the traditional and fold arts in the United States and was the first African to ever do so.

On Friday, February 1st, All Classical Portland will play Addy’s “Our Beginning, for string quartet and West African percussion” (with Kronos Quartet, 8pm hour)

On Saturday, February 2nd, we feature the “Three Black Kings Ballet” By Duke Ellington. Although Duke Ellington was primarily a jazz musician and composer, he also composed symphonies and other classical works. The “Three Black Kings Ballet” was Ellington’s final work. Each movement refers to a different a king. Balthazar the black king of the Magi, King Solomon, and Dr. Martin Luther King. Although it is a classical piece, the “Three Black Kings Ballet” still has Ellington’s signature jazz sound.

Works featured Friday, February 1st:
Scott Joplin: Original Rag No. 1 (6pm hour)
George Walker: Lyric for Strings (9pm hour)
Valerie Coleman (member of Imani Winds): Umoja (Swahili for “Unity”), 9pm hour

More works featured on Saturday, February 2nd, The Concert Hall:
Duke Ellington: Three Black Kings ballet
Adolphus Hailstorck: Three Spirituals (2005)
Joseph Boulogne (a.k.a., Chevalier de Saint-Georges): Symphonie Concertante in E-flat, Op. 12
William Grant Still
: Symphony No. 1, “Afro-American”