The Score of a Lifetime: WDAV Staff Picks for National Film Score Day

Some of the world’s most thrilling, evocative, and captivating music can be heard in surround sound at your local movie theatre.  Great film scores not only have the power to keep us on the edge of our seats, but they can also spark emotion and resonate with us in ways we never expected. In celebration of National Film Score Day (April 3), we asked members of our staff to answer the question, “If you could choose one original film score to be the ‘soundtrack to your life,’ which would you choose and why?”

Amarcord promotion poster with characters of the film clapping (upper right) and art renderings in lower left corner.

Doug Rubel,

“Nino Rota’s Amarcord. Translated, the title means ‘I remember,’ and at this point in my life, I remember everything – the good, the bad, and the ugly (which was a close second). The music is hauntingly melancholic and beautifully nostalgic. I first became aware of Rota’s music when, as a young teen, I saw the Albert Brooks film short – with Gilda Radner as the femme fatale – on Saturday Night Live.

The music Brooks used was from Amarcord, a film I would not see until I was in college. The main character, Titta, came from a dysfunctional family, as did I, had some pretty out there friends, as did I, and engaged in some risky behavior, as did I. I could honestly relate, and the music throughout the film only served to embellish Fellini’s stream-of-consciousness plot.”

Movie poster for An American in Paris with the names of the lead actors and "the music of George Gershwin"

Myelita Melton,
Associate Producer of Concierto & Afternoon Host 

“The film score that’s the soundtrack to my life would be An American in Paris by George Gershwin. I still remember hearing my first words in French in elementary school. The French language, the country, and its people became my passion, and I went on to earn my Master’s degree in French. Every time I hear An American in Paris, it takes me back to the ‘City of Lights.’  C’est fantastique!”

Still from movie Rushmore with Jason Schwartzman standing at chalkboard with arm extended holding chalk in his right hand, staring menacingly into camera.

Will Keible,
Director of Marketing and Corporate Support

“Without a doubt, it has got to be Mark Mothersbaugh’s score for the Wes Anderson film Rushmore. Most will remember Mothersbaugh as the bespectacled, whip wielding, flower-pot dome hat wearing frontman of the band Devo. What they may not know is that he is also one of the great film and TV score composers of our time.

The opening scene of Rushmore with Mothersbaugh’s music sets the stage for a magically hilarious romp through adolescence. It’s Mothersbaugh’s ability to express the optimism, magic, and naïveté of youth through music that makes it the soundtrack to my life.”

Still from 1917 with two solidiers talking to each other in front of outdoor stone doorway.

Jay Ahuja,
Corporate Sponsorship Representative

“Oddly enough, two war film scores recently knocked me out: 1917 and Dunkirk. I don’t believe either won an Oscar [for Best Original Score], but each time, I remember leaving the theater and thinking the score made the movie even more dramatic. At the risk of showing my age, Prince’s Purple Rain was another score that made a big impression. If I had to pick one, it would be 1917.”

Still from "Brief Encounter" with Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard.

Rodger Clark,
Director of Philanthropy & Special Projects

“No film score history would be complete without a mention of the 1945 British romantic drama Brief Encounter. It is based on a play by Noel Coward (Still Life) and tells the story of two people – both married – who fall in love after a chance meeting at a railroad station.

The musical score of the film is mostly Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. It is prominent throughout the movie. The film was awarded the Palme d’Or at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Oscar in several categories in 1947 but did not win.”

Still from Lord of the Rings with Frodo (Elijah Wood) reaching for a ring.

Heidi North,
Administrative Assistant
“LORD. OF. THE. RINGS. It’s all I ask for in life.”

5 Classical Moments and Milestones from the 2021 Grammy Awards

by Marisa Mecke

The 2021 Grammys highlighted musical works of all genres that have excelled during the difficult past year. Inside and outside of the Classical categories, classical musicians and artists made their mark on this year’s ceremonies. 

1. English singer, songwriter, and record producer Devonté Hynes (also known as Blood Orange) was nominated for two separate awards for “Fields,” his first album of classical compositions: Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance and Best Engineered Album, Classical. Hynes has also collaborated across genres with artists such as Solange Knowles, Florence and the Machine, Mariah Carey, and HAIM and recently composed the score for the film Queen & Slim. Though he did not take home a GRAMMY award, Blood Orange did make a special appearance: to kick off the festivities, Hynes joined Harry Styles on bass for the opening performance of Styles’ song “Watermelon Sugar.”

Watch Harry Styles and Blood Orange Perform “Watermelon Sugar”

2. Mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne won the Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to opera. Over the course of her career, Horne has received 15 GRAMMY nominations and won 4 awards for her 1964 album “The Age of Bel Canto: Operatic Scenes,” 1981 album “Live From Lincoln Center — Sutherland/Horne/Pavarotti,” 1983 album “Leontyne Price & Marilyn Horne in Concert at the Met” and a 1993 recording of “Semele.” 

Video: Watch Marilyn Horne Sing Aaron Copland’s “Simple Gifts”

3. Nominated for Best Classical Instrumental Solo for his album “Beethoven: Complete Piano Sonatas,” Russian-German pianist Igor Levit’s beautiful performance of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata at the GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony was a standout moment. Levit has always had a deep relationship with Beethoven’s sonatas: Writing for The Guardian, Levit describes studying under Karl-Heinz Kämmerling – and focusing intently on Beethoven’s Op. 2, No. 2 with near obsession. 

Video: Igor Levit Plays Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata at the 2021 Grammy Awards

4. Ten artists affiliated with the Sphinx Organization won GRAMMYs this year: J’Nai Bridges, mezzo-soprano; Drew Forde, viola; Celia Hatton, viola; Billy Hunter, trumpet; Stephanie Matthews, violin; Jessica McJunkins, violin; Weston Sprott, trombone; Titus Underwood, oboe; Clayton Penrose Whitmore, violin; and Tahirah Whittington, cello. The Sphinx Organization is a “social justice organization dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts,” dedicated to fostering and supporting diversity “at every level” in classical music. Violinist Jessica McJunkins (also known as Lady Jess), who once interned for the Charlotte Symphony and attended the UNC School of the Arts, has gone on to collaborate with artists such as Beyonce, Stevie Wonder, and more. At this GRAMMY Awards Ceremony, McJunkins was honored for her performance on the album “Smyth: The Prison,” which won Best Classical Solo Voice Album. 

Video: Watch Jessica McJunkins’ Tiny Desk Concert with Sudan Archives

5. Winning the GRAMMY for Best Classical Compendium, opera singer Isabel Leonard and the San Francisco Symphony’s music director Michael Tilson Thomas were featured for their work From The Diary of Anne Frank & Meditations on Rilke. Influenced by the words and spirit of Anne Frank, the piece also borrows from poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s works for inspiration. 

Video: Hear Michael Tilson Thomas talk about the Diary of Anne Frank & Meditations of Rilke


Pictured: Lady Jess (Jessica McJunkins) photo by Zach Hyman/ladyjessmusic.com

Michael Tilson Thomas: From the Diary of Anne Frank & Meditations on Rilke (Warner Classics)

Sphinx Music: Our History

Dev Hynes (Wikipedia) 

Immense. Harrowing. Exhilarating: pianist Igor Levit on Beethoven’s sonatas (The Guardian)

Fields (Cedille Records)

Michael Tilson Thomas: From the Diary of Anne Frank & Meditations on Rilke (The San Francisco Symphony)

2021 Grammy Awards: the Full List of Winners (NPR)

Grammys 2021 Winners: See The Full List Here (Pitchfork)

Marilyn Horne awarded Lifetime Achievement Award- The Bradford Era

Women in Classical Composition: An A to Z Playlist

Pictured (from left to right): Caroline Shaw, Ysaÿe M. Barnwell, Dawn Avery

In honor of Women’s History Month, this curated playlist features one composer and work for each letter of the alphabet, showcasing the incredible variety and scope of women’s achievements in classical music.

Alicia Urreta

A Alicia Urreta: Influential Mexican pianist, composer, and teacher and founder of Mexico’s National Symphony Orchestra

Selected work: “Suite Gàstrica” (Avuimúsica – Col Lecció de Música Catalana Contemporània Vol. 7)

B Barbara Strozzi: Italian composer and vocalist of the Baroque period, published more music in her lifetime than any other composer of the era

Selected work: “Amor dormiglione” (Metamorfosi – Baroque Impressions)

Caroline Shaw

C Caroline Shaw: North Carolina-raised American violinist, singer, and composer; youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music

Selected work:Partita for 8 Singers: No. 2. Sarabande (Partita for 8 Voices by Caroline Shaw)

Dawn Avery

D Dawn Avery: Genre-bending Mohawk composer, cellist, and vocalistdedicated to indigenous cultural preservation

Selected work: “Abundance” (Alchemy – Music for Meditation)

E Errolyn Wallen: Versatile British composer of orchestral, choral, chamber, and solo works; recipient of the Ivors Composer Award and honored as one of BBC’s 100 Women in 2018

Selected work: “Pace” (Peace on Earth)

Florence Price

F Florence Price: American composer, pianist, and organist known for excellence in symphonic composition; the first Black woman composer to have a composition performed by a major orchestra

Selected work: Symphony No. 1 in E Minor: IV. Finale

G Gabriela Lena Frank: American contemporary composer, pianist, and teacher, current member of the Silk Road Ensemble and recent recipient of the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities

Selected work: Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout: VI. Coquetos

Hildegard von Bingen

H Hildegard von Bingen: 12th century German abbess and polymath known as the most recorded composer of sacred monophony in modern history

Selected work: “Spiritu Sanctus Vivificans” (Naked Byrd 2)

Ilse Fromm-Michaels

I Ilse Fromm-Michaels: 20th century German pianist and composer, founder of the Hamburg First School of Music and Drama and recipient of the Johannes Brahms Medal

Selected work: 4 Puppen, Op. 4: No. 2, Der Hampelmann

J Jessie Montgomery: American composer, violinist, and teacher whose classical works weave together “vernacular music, improvisation, language, and social justice”; 2 time Sphinx Competition laureate

Selected work: “Starburst” (Strum: Music for Strings)

Karen Tanaka

K Karen Tanaka: Prolific and award-winning Japanese composer; often takes inspiration from the natural world

Selected work: Night Bird for Alto Saxophone and Electronics

L Lili Boulanger: 20th century French composer; first female winner of the Prix de Rome and sister to famed educator Nadia Boulanger

Selected work: “Nocturne” (Janine Jansen: Beau Soir)

M Mari Ésabel Valverde: Frequently commissioned American composer, singer, and educator in singing and transgender voice training; 3-time ASCAP PLUS award winner

Selected work: “Darest, O Soul” (Cantus: The COVID-19 Sessions)

N Natalia Janotha: 20th century Polish pianist and composer of over 400 works

Selected work: Mazurka in A Major, Op. 6 No. 2 (The Salon of Polish Women Composers)

O Olga Neuwirth: Austrian composer of chamber and electronic works; 2021 Wolf Prize laureate

Selected work: CoronAtion I: io son ferito animè (Solo) 

Pauline Viardot

P Pauline Viardot: Famed 19th century French mezzo-soprano, pedagogue, composer, and polyglot

Selected work: “Hai luli” (Chant d’amour)

Q Lucia Quinciani: Italian composer of the 16th century; first known female composer of monody

Selected work: “Udite lagrimosi spirti” (Juana Ines De La Cruz)

Rebecca Clarke

R Rebecca Clarke: British-American 20th century composer and viola virtuoso known for strikingly powerful chamber, choral, and vocal works

Selected work: Viola Sonata: I. Impetuoso (Rebecca Clarke)

S Sulpitia Cesis: 16th century Italian composer, lutenist, and Augustinian nun; only known work is a volume of 23 Motetti spirituali

Selected work: Motetti spirituali: Hodie gloriosus (Tactus: Sulpitia Cesis)

Tania León

T Tania León: Cuban-American composer, conductor, and arts advisor, founding member and first musical director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and multi-award winner

Selected work: “Parajota Delaté” (Indígena) 

U Unsuk Chin: South Korean composer and proponent of experimental and electronic composition

Selected work: Piano Concerto: Movement 1 (Unsuk Chin: 3 Concertos)

V Valborg Aulin: Prolific 19th century composer and pianist, arguably the most important Swedish symphonic composer of the 1880s

Selected work: String Quartet in F Major, Op. 17, No. 1: I. Allegro (Musica Sveciae)

W Wendy Carlos: Three-time GRAMMY award-winning American composer of electronic music and film scores

Selected work: “Tron Scherzo” (Disney’s Tron)

X Xin Huguang: Modern Chinese composer whose work incorporates elements of Mongolian folk music

Selected work: “Ka Ta Mei Ling” (Ga Da Mei Lin)

Ysaÿe Maria Barnwell

Y Ysaÿe Maria Barnwell: American composer and female bass vocalist known for choral works and compositions for dance, film, and the stage

Selected work: “We Are…” (One Voice: Conspirare Christmas 2012)

Z Zenobia Powell Perry: American composer, professor, and civil rights activist known for blending contrapuntal and tonal frameworks with jazz and folk influences

Selected work: Piano Potpourri: No. 4 “Flight”



Alicia Urreta (By Blackcow30 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Caroline Shaw (by Feast of Music, CC BY 2.0)

Dawn Avery (by Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office – PHFL+soNativeAmerican-p-1-Heritage, CC BY 2.0)

Florence Price (by Source, Fair use)

Hildegard von Bingen (by Unknown author – Miniatur aus dem Rupertsberger Codex des Liber Scivias., Public Domain)

Ilse Fromm-Michaels (by Anita Rée – From the booklet of CD ‘Ilse Fromm-Michaels. Complete Paino Works’, Public Domain)

Karen Tanaka (by DR825 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Pauline Viardot-Garcia (by Unknown author – Unknown source, Public Domain)

Rebecca Clarke (By Hopkins Studio, Denver, Colorado, United States)

Tania León (by Photo by Michael Provost, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Ysaÿe Barnwell

Classically Trained: Houston Person

By Marisa Mecke

Discover something new today! This series explores the lives and contributions of classical artists with connections to the Carolinas. Intended as quick “brain breaks” for learners of all ages, these educational features can be divided into sections for daily reading or used as lesson plans for students at home.

Jazz saxophone virtuoso Houston Person is a prolific performer and record producer whose work spans decades and genres. With a style described as relaxed and distinctly expressive, Person has recorded more than 100 jazz, disco, gospel, pop, and R&B albums and continues to perform well into his eighties. Person plays fluently in styles from hard bop to swing, but he is best known for his influential work in soul jazz. 

Video: Houston Person: What a Wonderful World
Early Life, Education, and Experiences

Born in Florence, South Carolina in 1934, Person began his musical journey by learning to play the piano as a child. At 17 years old, Person received a tenor saxophone for Christmas, which led him to make the switch to the instrument he is famous for today. His classical training continued after high school at South Carolina State College, where he completed his undergraduate degree before enlisting in the army. 

After college, Person joined a service band while stationed in West Germany with the United States Air Force, where he played with many notable musicians such as Don Ellis, Eddie Harris, Cedar Walton, and Leo Wright. Person then furthered his music education at the Hartt College of Music in Hartford, Connecticut. During his graduate studies, he gained experience playing in clubs all around New England, practicing and performing with fellow jazz talents before his career took flight. 

Fun Fact: In 1999, Person was inducted into South Carolina State College’s Hall of Fame for his contributions to the music industry. 

Video: Lisa Ferraro with Houston Person – Teach Me Tonight
Rise to Fame

Person’s rise to fame began when he became known for a series of albums with the jazz label Prestige Records in the 1960s. After years of building a career in the jazz circuit, Person made his Prestige debut on organist Johnny “Hammond” Smith’s 1965 album The Stinger. The experience was influential to Person’s style: after he formed a band of his own in the early 1970s, Person continued to feature the organ (a staple of the soul jazz subgenre) in his own music. His first album as a leader was Underground Soul!, released on the Prestige Records label in 1966. 

During this time period, Person often worked with late singer Etta Jones. A three-time Grammy Award nominee and 2008 Grammy Hall of Fame inductee for her album Don’t Go to Strangers, Jones met Person while working with one of Hammond Smith’s bands at Prestige. The pair played together for 35 years, with Person serving as her manager and producer until her death in 2001. 

A Career in Motion

Though Person is well into his eighties, his career shows no signs of slowing down. In an interview at the San Diego Jazz Party, Person noted that at his age, his wife feels that he should cut back on the month long tours he continues to book. However, Person is dedicated to his music career and cherishes the places it has taken him, stating that “everything I ever did, I stand by. For me, it’s been a wonderful journey.”

Truly an independent artist, Person is also known for self-managing his thriving music career, booking his own appearances and producing his own records. In 1982, Person received the Eubie Blake Jazz Award, a prestigious honor named for the esteemed 20th century pianist, lyricist, and ragtime and jazz composer.  

Advice and Mentorship

An inspiration and mentor, Person has guided many young musicians in their careers, including jazz pianist Joe Alterman. Despite their 55 year age gap, Person and Alterman have developed a close friendship while playing together at jazz clubs in New York. Person’s best advice to young musicians is to “know your craft. It’s hard work. Get an education, but don’t sacrifice one for the other. Learn to speak for yourself. Blow your horn.” 

In an interview with The Orangeburg Times and Democrat,, saxophonist Thomas “Skipp” Pearson recalls living by South Carolina State College and listening to Person practice in the college’s band room alongside jazz greats like Lonnie Hamilton and George Kenny. Pearson has always remembered Person’s advice: “Once you find your voice, the rest is easy, and then you just play from your heart and soul.”

Video: Joe Alterman, Houston Person, James Cammack, Lewis Nash –
“Blue Moon” – at the Iridium (Joe Alterman)
Spotify Playlist
  1. “Willow Weep for Me” – Houston Person, I’m Just a Lucky So and So
  2. “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” – Ron Carter and Houston Person, Now’s the Time/Something in Common
  3. “Everything Happens to Me” – Houston Person, The Talk of the Town
  4. “Talk of the Town” – Teddy Edwards and Houston Person, Horn to Horn
  5. “My One and Only Love” – Houston Person and Ron Carter, Remember Love
  6. “Just My Imagination” – Houston Person, Legends of Acid Jazz
  7. “I Can’t Get Started” – Houston Person and Ron Carter, Chemistry
  8. “The Sin-In” – Johnny “Hammond” Smith and Houston Person, The Soulful Blues
  9. “The Girl from Ipanema” – Teddy Edwards and Houston Person, Horn to Horn
  10. “Crazy He Calls Me” – Houston Person, Something Personal
Sources and Further Reading

“Houston Person” (Inter-Jazz.com)

“Houston Person” (Concord Music)

“Preserving the gem: Revered jazz musician credits Orangeburg for his love of the genre” (The Times and Democrat)

“Artist Biography”  (Scott Yanow, allmusic.com)

“Houston Person: It’s Been a Wonderful Journey” (The Syncopated Times)

“Meet the Weird, Wonderful and Sexiest Duo Since Brangelina: Joe Alterman and Houston Person”  (Huffington Post)

Pictured: Houston Person by Steve Mynett Vancouver, Canada, CC BY 2.0.

Love Notes: 4 Romantic Letters from Classical Music History

1. Orpheus “King” Fisher to Marian Anderson

Iconic contralto Marian Anderson found her one true love in architect Orpheus “King” Fisher, but their path to a life together wasn’t without its obstacles. Anderson and Fisher met in their teens when she was invited to perform at his family’s home, and after dating for a short while, Fisher began to talk about marriage and running away together. Wanting a career in music, Anderson did not share his desire to marry quickly. The pair soon moved on from one another, but Fisher continued to pine after Anderson. After his first marriage crumpled and Anderson’s career began to take off, Fisher sent her letter after letter, begging her to respond and assuring her that he could be trusted: 

Marian Anderson

“I am always thinking of you and wishing and hoping you were home and with me… I only get a thrill from my Marian.” (p. 73)

Fisher and Anderson eventually rekindled their relationship. In 1940, the couple purchased a 100-acre farm in Connecticut, where Fisher designed and built an acoustic rehearsal studio as a gift to Anderson. After twenty years together, she agreed to marry him in 1943. 

Source: Marian Anderson: A Singer’s Journey (Alan Keiler), A Life Well Sung: With Eleanor Roosevelt at her side, and a young MLK in the audience, singer Marian Anderson inspired change with an historic concert (Grid)

2. Erik Satie to Suzanne Valadon

Composer Erik Satie’s unusual habits are no secret – and in Suzanne Valadon, he seemed to have met his match. A free-spirited painter and artist’s model, Valadon was known to feed her least favorite paintings to her pet goat, wore “a corsage of carrots,” and even donned a unique gift from Satie during their whirlwind romance: a necklace made of sausages. Satie, who had had no known romantic relationships before Valadon, was so smitten that he proposed to her on the night they met. In his own writings, Satie included a snippet from one of his love letters to Valadon:

Erik Satie

“You are in me complete, everywhere, I see nothing but your exquisite eyes, your gentle hands and your little child’s feet.”


Valadon almost immediately moved into a room next to Satie’s, and the couple exchanged artistic tributes to one another: Valadon presented Satie with an experimental oil portrait, and he composed the piece Bonjour, Biqui, Bonjour as a gift to her. Unfortunately, the relationship would end as quickly as it began. Many sources claim that Valadon left Satie suddenly, leaving him devastated enough to base his Vexations on the breakup, but Satie writes “It was I who broke off the relationship.” In either case, both Satie and Valadon went on to fruitful artistic careers – and Satie may never have dated again. 

Source: “Erik Satie on Himself (1892-1897)” (Naxos), Weird Classical: Satie’s Quirky Relationship With Painter Suzanne Valadon (WQXR)

3. Johannes Brahms to Clara Schumann

After first visiting the couple in Düsseldorf in 1853, then 20-year-old Johannes Brahms developed a fast friendship with both Robert and Clara Schumann – but his feelings for Clara soon grew into something more. As Robert’s health deteriorated in the last years of his life, Brahms began to express his love to Clara in a series of letters: 

Johannes Brahms

“My dearly Beloved Clara, I can no longer exist without you… please go on loving me as I shall go on loving you, always and forever.” (June 1855)

Though it’s unclear to what extent Clara reciprocated his feelings, they both adored Robert and never entered a romantic relationship with one another, even after his death. The pair kept in contact and remained close friends for life. 

Sources: “Out of the Shadows: Clara Schumann” (Minnesota Public Radio), “Musical Love Triangle: Brahms and the Schumanns” (Houston Symphony)

4. Benjamin Britten to Peter Pears

Benjamin Britten’s nearly 40-year love story with tenor Peter Pears was never publicized during his lifetime, and much of what is known about the couple comes from their personal papers, which have now been meticulously archived. Same-sex relationships of all kinds were illegal in the United Kingdom for much of their time together, forcing the pair to keep their life together private. Scores of letters and musical dedications paint a moving picture of their love:

Benjamin Britten

“You are a most adorable man & artist, intelligent, gifted, simple, loving & noble… I am really very, very lucky to be alive with you around.” (Britten to Pears, December 1956)

Britten and Pears were inseparable. Over the years, Britten would write numerous song cycles and roles for Pears, his greatest muse and confidant. When the Britten biography “Pictures from a Life” was published after his death, Pears summed it up simply: it was not “the story of one man. It’s a life of the two of us.”

Sources: “Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten, 1913-1976” (ed. Donald Mitchell, Mervyn Cooke, and Philip Reed), “Britten and Pears” (The Red House Aldeburgh)

Black History Month: The First and the Future

Each week throughout the month of February, WDAV’s First and The Future blog series highlights two Black composers or musicians who have shaped the course of classical music: one who shattered a historical barrier, and one whose extraordinary achievements in the same field continue today. Check back here every Friday at noon for the next pair of classical artists!

Joseph Douglass and Black Violin
Joseph Douglass 

Virtuosic violinist and conductor Joseph Douglass, grandson of the famed abolitionist, orator, and writer Frederick Douglass, was the first Black violinist to tour multiple continents and the first violinist to record with the Victor Talking Machine Company (known since 1968 as RCA Records).

Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather (who both played the violin), Douglass was encouraged to start his musical training at a young age, eventually honing his craft at the New England Conservatory and Boston Conservatory.

Joseph Henry Douglass (1869-1935)
Credit: NPS

Douglass’ career as a concert violinist took off after his performance at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. For three decades, he toured extensively throughout the United States and abroad, held a tenured position at Howard University, and built a lasting legacy as a remarkable educator and concert artist. 

Source: Violinist Joseph Douglass (African American Registry)

Black Violin

Made up of violinist Kevin Sylvester and violist Wilner Baptiste, multi-genre duo Black Violin is known for melding classical and hip hop influences into a unique sound all their own. Classically trained musicians Sylvester and Baptiste met as high school students in orchestra class, where their shared love of hip hop and R&B drew them together.

In 2005, the duo won New York City’s “Showtime at the Apollo” competition, setting their rise to fame in motion.

Black Violin has since released three studio albums, collaborated with top artists including Alicia Keys, Kanye West, the Roots, and Aerosmith, and performed at an inauguration gala for President Barack Obama.

Wilner Baptiste (l-r), & Kevin Sylvester are Black Violin.
Credit: Mark Clennon

Sylvester and Baptiste recently earned their first GRAMMY nomination for their 2019 album Take the Stairs, which will be in the running for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album at the 2021 ceremony. 

Black Violin is dedicated to educational outreach and accessibility, performing for thousands of students in North America and Europe each year. In 2019, the duo launched the Black Violin Foundation Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides access to quality community music programs and scholarships for continued study. 

Video: Black Violin, Breaking Your Musical Stereotypes | UNCHARTED

Sources: Black Violin (The Kennedy Center), Melding classical and hip hop: Black Violin brings their unique sound to the Kate (The Day), Black Violin Earns First Grammy Nomination (Broward Center for the Performing Arts)

Opera Singers:
Camilla Williams and Angel Blue
Camilla Williams

Legendary soprano Camilla Williams was the first African American vocalist to receive a regular contract with a major American opera company, the first Black artist to perform in a lead role with the Vienna State Opera, and the first African American professor of voice at Indiana University.  After earning her Bachelor’s degree in music from Virginia State College, Williams continued her vocal studies in Philadelphia with pedagogue Marion Freschl. In 1946, she made her New York City Opera debut as Cio-Cio San in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, which would become her signature role. 

Camilla Williams
By Carl Van Vechten/Wikipedia

As a concert artist, Williams toured and performed extensively throughout 6 continents, including engagements with the New York Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony, and BBC Symphony. Her voice can be heard as a soloist on the 1950 recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 (listen here). 

In 1963, Williams gave a recital in her hometown of Danville, Virginia to raise bail funds for jailed civil rights demonstrators and performed at the March on Washington. The following year, Williams joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a second time as a featured performer at King’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. Williams retired from her performance career in 1971 and later became a professor of voice at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, where she remained until her death in 2012. 

Video: Camilla Williams, Lawrence Winters, and Cab Calloway TV Appearance (Ashton Joliet)

Sources: Camilla Ella Williams (1919 – 2012) (Virginia Changemakers), Camilla Williams dies at 92; opera singer broke racial barriers (Los Angeles Times)

Angel Blue

With a voice described as “shimmering and rich” and “glaringly powerful,” Angel Blue is one of the most sought-after sopranos of today. After starting her path as a member of LA Opera’s Young Artist Program, Blue began to build an international career and make waves in the competition circuit in the late 2000’s. In 2009, she was named an Operalia finalist, coming in first in the Zarzuela competition and second in the Opera competition. Blue has since appeared in leading roles with the world’s top opera companies, including regular engagements with the Los Angeles Opera, San Francisco Opera, Theater an der Wien, and many others.

Angel Blue
By WestCoastArtists – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

In just the last 6 years, Blue has performed in over 35 countries, most recently appearing in Staatsoper Hamburg’s production of La bohème as Mimì (2019) and making her Metropolitan Opera debut as Bess in Porgy and Bess (2020). For more information on Blue’s past performances and accolades, click here to visit her official website. 

Video: Chapí y Lorente: Carceleras (Las hijas del Zebedeo) / Angel Blue /
Karel Mark Chichon / DRP
(Deutsche Radio Philharmonie)

Sources: Angel Joy Blue Official Website, Angel Blue (LA Opera

Francis Johnson and Pamela Z

Frank Johnson

Likely born in Philadelphia in 1792, Francis “Frank” Johnson was a prolific composer, band leader, and multi-instrumentalist known as a virtuoso of the keyed bugle. When he became the first African American composer to publish a composition as sheet music in 1818, Johnson’s path to fame began. He would go on to publish well over 200 pieces during his lifetime, many of which survive only in manuscripts and piano transcriptions.

Frank Johnson
Frank Johnson

Johnson also founded and led Philadelphia’s famous Francis Johnson Band, a brass ensemble originally made up entirely of Black musicians. Word of the band’s remarkable sound spread to all corners of Philadelphia society, and in 1837, Johnson conquered another first: the band was invited to perform for Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace, making him the first African American band leader to tour in Europe. 

Throughout his career, Johnson was commissioned to compose music for several significant events, including the 1824 return of Revolutionary War figure General Lafayette to the United States, and maintained a private music studio of both Black and white students. Though Johnson’s exact playing style remains a topic of debate due to limited documentation, many of his works were revived for the 1990 Chestnut Brass Ensemble CD The Music of Francis Johnson & His Contemporaries: Early 19th-Century Black Composers. 

Read more about Johnson’s life and work at his bio in the University of Pennsylvania archives

Video: “Honour to the Brave: General Lafayette’s Grand March” by Francis Johnson

Source: Francis Johnson (1792 – 1844), Penn University Archives & Records Center

Pamela Z

Composer, performer, and media artist Pamela Z works with sound, video, and physical gestures to create layered compositions, often centered around her own voice. A pioneer of electronic processing and live looping, Z’s work often features extended vocal techniques and samples created with found objects.

Z graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree in classical voice in 1978 and soon began to experiment with voice processing, leading her to develop the multifaceted sound she is known for today.

Pamela Z
Photo by rubra (courtesy of Ars Electronica)
Pamela Z
Photo by rubra (courtesy of Ars Electronica)

Her international career has included engagements and installments with Bang on a Can at Lincoln Center, La Biennale di Venezia, San Francisco Symphony’s SoundBox, and more, and she has completed commissioned works for chamber ensembles such as the Kronos Quartet, Eighth Blackbird, and the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble. 

A truly groundbreaking artist in her field, Z has earned numerous prestigious awards including the United States Artists fellowship, the Guggenheim Fellowship, the ASCAP Music Award, and many others. Z’s interactive work Baggage Claim is permanently installed online for public viewing. 

Visit Pamela Z’s official bio to learn more about her artistry and style. 

Video: Attention (by Pamela Z) – Del Sol String Quartet Live at the Exploratorium

Source: Pamela Z Bios, pamelaz.com

Eva Jessye and Jeri Lynne Johnson

Eva Jessye
Eva Jessye

Revered as the first Black woman to achieve international recognition as a choral conductor, Eva Jessye began her career as a music teacher in 1914 after earning two Bachelor’s degrees from Western University and Langston University. Twelve years later, Jessye founded the Dixie Jubilee Singers, a multi-genre ensemble that would later become the famed Eva Jessye Choir. 

She and the choir soon relocated to New York, where they found remarkable success: throughout the 1920s and 30s, they made regular appearances in the Capitol Theatre stage show, performed on the radio extensively (including a regular spot on the Major Bowes Family Radio Hour), and recorded on Brunswick, Columbia, and Cameo records. In 1935, the choir was selected to perform in the original production of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, and Jessye herself was chosen as the production’s choral director. The Eva Jessye Choir’s popularity climbed for decades, and in 1963, the ensemble was chosen to be the official choral group of the March on Washington. 

Along with her choral conducting career, Jessye published several beloved compositions and spiritual arrangements, which remain widely performed today. Her home state of Kansas declared October 1 “Eva Jessye Day” in 1978, and in 1982, Governor John Carlin named her the “Kansas Ambassador for the Arts.”

Visit Eva Jessye’s Black Past biography to read more about her accomplishments and legacy.

Video: Eva Jessye Choir – Clara, Clara (The Requiem) – Porgy and Bess (1940)

Source: Eva Jessye (1895 – 1992), Black Past

Jeri Lynne Johnson
Jeri Lynne Johnson
by Knight Foundation, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Jeri Lynne Johnson is an acclaimed conductor and orchestra founder based in Philadelphia, PA. Like Eva Jessye, Johnson’s achievements include a historical first: she was awarded the Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship in 2005, becoming the first African-American woman to win an international conducting prize. Johnson’s career has included engagements with the world’s leading orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra and Germany’s Weimar Staatskapelle, world-premiere performances with MacArthur Genius Grant Winners, and a collaborative appearance at Carnegie Hall with Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, and The Roots.  

In 2008, Johnson founded Philadelphia’s Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, which features “top musicians in the country from diverse cultures and ethnicities as a model for the 21st-century orchestra.” Now a beloved staple of the city’s cultural landscape, Black Pearl has the distinction of being the only organization in the United States to win three Knight Foundation Arts Challenge grants. 

Today, Johnson serves as the Artistic Director of the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra and the current cover conductor of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. Among her numerous accolades, she was named one of today’s leading young women conductors on the NBC Today Show and has been honored as a 2010 Philly 360 Creative Ambassador, a 2010 British American Project Fellow, and a 2011 Philadelphia Business Journal Woman of Distinction.

Read more about Jeri’s work and achievements here

Video: “How to Bring Classical Music to the Next Generation,”
Jeri Lynne Johnson (TED Archive)

Source: Jeri Lynne Johnson Official Website, “About.”

Classically Trained: Tichina Vaughn

Discover something new today! This series explores the lives and contributions of classical artists with connections to the Carolinas. Intended as quick “brain breaks” for learners of all ages, these educational features can be divided into sections for daily reading or used as lesson plans for students at home.

Musical Beginnings

Raised in Winston-Salem, NC, mezzo-soprano Tichina Vaughn has built a standout international reputation while maintaining strong ties to her home state. Tichina’s formal vocal study began shortly after high school at Georgia State University, but her early years were steeped in musical activity: studying clarinet, playing in marching and concert bands, and singing as a choir member and soloist. 

Tichina received her Bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in 1989.

What is a mezzo-soprano?  
“Mezzo” is an Italian word meaning “middle” or “half.” A mezzo-soprano is a female singer with a vocal range “halfway” between a soprano (the highest female voice type) and contralto (the lowest female voice type).

Even before her graduation, Tichina’s unmistakable voice drew attention from some of the world’s foremost opera houses – and after winning the 1989 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, she joined the Met’s Young Artist Development program and made her stage debut there as Lily in the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess in 1990. 

An Emerging Artist and the Early Years

Tichina’s first leading role on a major opera stage, Amneris in a Seattle Opera production of Verdi’s Aida, arrived just two years later in 1992. Her interpretation sparked immediate attention from the opera community, and invitations to reprise the role began to pour in from companies around the globe. Soon, Tichina was recognized as an emerging Verdian mezzo-soprano, regularly taking on leading roles such as Princess Eboli in Don Carlos and the mezzo-soprano soloist in Verdi’s Requiem throughout the early 1990s. 

Fun Fact: Tichina has regularly ventured into jazz, gospel, and other crossover work, including a featured performance at the 50th anniversary of the German State of Baden-Württemberg. 

In 1996, Tichina made her European debut as Mistress Quickly in Staatstheater Stuttgart’s production of Falstaff, which marked the beginning of both her long relationship with the company and her robust European career. From 1998 to 2006, she continued to perform with the Staatstheater Stuttgart as a principal artist, eventually earning the distinction of Kammersängerin, the German honorific title for opera singers of the highest merit. Throughout her years in Stuttgart, Tichina’s list of signature roles blossomed as her aptitude for the works of Wagner became evident, culminating with her appearances as Fricka (Die Walküre) and Waltraute (Götterdämmerung) in the Staatstheater Stuttgart’s full recording of Wagner’s Ring cycle via Naxos in 2006.

Video: Dream Variations (Margaret Bonds) -Tichina Vaughn

Career Highlights and Accolades

Now one of opera’s most sought-after mezzo-sopranos, Tichina has quite literally performed around the globe, with previous engagements on international stages including the National Opera Hong Kong, Greek National Opera, Budapest National Opera, Hamburg Opera, Opera Graz, and countless others. She made numerous appearances with the Arena di Verona summer festival in Italy starting in 2003, and from 2010 to 2018, she was engaged as a principal artist at Semperoper Dresden.

In addition to her 1989 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions award, Tichina is the recipient of the Opera Index Vocal Award, Living Heritage Foundation Award, the Consul General’s Award for Cultural Diplomacy from the Consulate General Milan, and many other prestigious accolades.

Fun Fact: James Allbritten, general and artistic director of North Carolina’s Piedmont Opera General and artistic director at Fletcher Opera, describes Tichina’s voice as “just what opera wants… a rich, round voice that, in the upper registers, gets a shimmer and won’t let go.”

More details on Tichina’s accomplishments, engagements, and signature roles can be found in her official artist bio

Video: Tichina Vaughn/Luana DeVol – Wagner Die Götterdämmerung (Stuttgart)

Recent Projects 

Just as Tichina’s voice sets her apart from her peers, another personal strength is clear in everything she does: her infectious positive spirit. Tichina’s enthusiasm is on display in the series “Behind the Row” on her YouTube channel The GRATITUDE Channel, which features dynamic, impromptu interviews with her costars in the English National Opera’s 2019 production of Porgy and Bess (and, in doing so, highlights the experiences of Black and brown singers from around the world). Though she has taken on several roles from Porgy and Bess over the years, a true full-circle moment arrived in 2019, when Tichina returned to the Metropolitan Opera to reprise the role of Lily for the first time at the Met since her 1990 debut. She can be heard on the 2020 recording of the same production with Angel Blue and Eric Owens, which has been nominated for Best Opera Recording at the 2021 GRAMMY Awards

An active voice teacher and mentor, Tichina returned to North Carolina in October 2019 and February 2020 as an artist-in-residence at her alma mater, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. At UNCSA, Tichina led a series of master classes and mentored fellows of the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute one on one, offering private vocal coaching and individualized career counseling. UNCSA School of Music interim dean Tony Woodcock described the residency as “a real plus for our graduate students as they transition to roles as entrepreneurial professional artists… and all of our voice students (are) inspired by her wisdom and her artistry.”

Though the COVID-19 pandemic is still with us, Tichina has continued to perform with increased pandemic precautions in Europe, including an October 2020 production of Porgy and Bess with Austria’s Theater an der Wien. We can all be hopeful that in-person performances will return to our lives soon, and we look forward to the next move in Tichina’s remarkable artistic path. 

Video: Tichina Vaughn goes Behind the Row. Episode 1. Latonia Moore, Soprano

Spotify Playlist
  1. “I Wonder As I Wander” – Christmas at My House (Tichina Vaughn)
  2. Die Walkure: Act II Scene I: So ist es denn aus mit den ewigen Gottern (Staatsoper Stuttgart)
  3. Götterdämmerung, WWV 86D, Act I Scene 3: Altgewohntes Gerausch (Staatsoper Stuttgart)
  4. Svanda dudak (Schwanda, the bagpiper): Act I Scene 3: Uz dohral! (Semperoper Dresden)
  5. Svanda dudak (Schwanda, the bagpiper): Act I Scene 2: Slava bude povsem kralovstvi (Semperoper Dresden)


Sources and Further Reading

Image of Tichina Vaughn by Bashstint – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Tichina Vaughn (Official Website)

Tichina Vaughn (Fletcher Artist Management)

Internationally acclaimed alumna will be artist-in-residence at UNCSA (University of North Carolina School of the Arts)

Tichina Vaughn teaches Fletcher fellows to dig deep, reach higher till they shimmer and  shine (Winston-Salem Journal)

Here’s how Porgy looks in Vienna’s COVID staging (Slipped Disc)

Looking for love in all the wrong places

By Lawrence Toppman

Remember the 1994 movie “Immortal Beloved”? Its poster showed an improbably dashing Beethoven sitting in a chair, with the arms of an otherwise unseen female wrapped affectionately around him.

That fanciful biography took its title from a letter Beethoven wrote in July 1812 to a woman who has never been identified. The letter began “My angel, my all, my self” and ended “The gods must send what must and what should be for us – Your faithful Ludwig.”

The two likeliest candidates seem to be Antonie Brentano, an affectionate married woman to whom he was drawn, or Bettina Brentano, her sister-in-law by marriage and a younger muse to many men, including Goethe. (She introduced Beethoven to him at the composer’s request; he’d hoped to coax the old man into writing an opera libretto, but that came to nothing.)

Because Beethoven had a profound respect for wedlock, and because Bettina soon became a wife after he met her, he probably didn’t sleep with either. His lifelong bad fortune consistently drew him to women who were married, too young, too flighty, uninterested in him physically or too highly placed socially to accept him as a suitor.

In fact, lasting love of all kinds eluded him after the death of his mother when he was 16. His father beat, humiliated and exploited him. His brothers, neither of whom had any interest in his work except when hawking it to music publishers, went their own ways. He considered one sister-in-law no better than a prostitute and fought her in the courts for custody of her son, Karl. That four-year struggle ended with him gaining guardianship over the 14-year-old in 1820.

As his father had done with him, Beethoven attempted to squeeze music out of his nephew. Karl, uninspired as both a pianist and a composer, reasonably tried to fight free of his uncle’s grasp. He set his mother and uncle against each other, led an unambitious academic life, unsuccessfully attempted suicide in 1826, entered military service the following year and never saw his uncle again.

As this would-be-paternal relationship fell apart, Beethoven stopped seeking loving connections with family members and the opposite sex. Instead, he poured his feelings into music.

When the Missa Solemnis premiered in 1824, he dedicated it to Archduke Rudolf of Austria, his main patron as well as a former pupil and friend. He inscribed Rudolf’s copy “Von Herzen—Möge es wieder—Zu Herzen gehn!” That is, “From the heart – may it return to the heart!” If no individuals loved him deeply, he could still reach out to the heart of the entire world.