I am about to be BLACK, y’all. Okay, that sounds really ridiculous doesn’t it? Seriously, I am always black and I am always observed to be black when people see me. So, it is almost doubly ridiculous that I feel the need to create this blog. However, because I am black, I know that we still need to highlight the accomplishments of other black and brown people until the day that our excellence doesn’t have to be viewed through a colored corrective lens.
Growing up in my very black household, I was extremely fortunate to have parents who had the motivation and means to expose me to all types of art and culture. Hanging around one of my family gatherings you were going to have impromptu recitals and showcasing of our “God-given” talents both formal and informal. Just about everyone plays, writes, sings, recites or does something in the area of performance and these talents were often put to work in one church program or another. It was in the choir that I began my first love affair with music. I remember my Aunt Donna teaching me my scales and I’m thankful that my little soprano voice was strong enough to qualify me because I was an absolute failure at the piano. Voice always captivated me. The human body as a funnel, air as the conductor and somewhere in the mix, melodies from Heaven simply poured out and danced into the ears and hearts of those within range.
Growing up in a black church tradition you can imagine that much of my musical training early on was heavily influenced by contemporary gospel and praise and worship music, but it was those old hymns that I truly loved. What you may not realize unless you’ve spent a lot of time in a traditional, old black church is that those hymns sound a lot like opera in the mouths of certain performers.
Listen to how this sister interprets “Walk With Me”: https://youtu.be/jLsaQPrfBF8.
My family also made sure that I knew about many of the amazing musicians who were “classically trained” who happened to also be of African descent while I was growing up. With the advent of all this technology It still gets me that in 2018 I still encounter individuals, black, brown or otherwise, who seem to not know about those contributors. Even worse, many think that black and brown people are not interested and do not partake in “high arts” or that we are new to this game.
Please note my quotes because I roll my eyes every time I articulate these concepts but these are the limits of society and language and we all know that genres like “opera and ballet” are given the distinction of “high art”.
Moving on, the fact is that there are black and brown people who not only consume but also perform with excellence in the “classical arts”. Let me share a couple of contemporary examples with you.
Voices of Black Opera
This short film addresses the misperception among the general public about black people and opera, and encourages the musical establishment:- schools, opera companies, and the record industry to rid themselves of deeply entrenched prejudices. The film features sopranos, baritones, and tenors from the BBCF and the Voice of Black Opera’s (VOBOs) international competition for singers of Black and Asian heritage, which provides a dynamic platform where performers claim center stage and where works of greater diversity engage new audiences.
For more information please visit the Black British Classical Foundation: http://www.bbcf.org.uk/
Jeanine De Bique
Recently described as a “divine singer” (Trouw, Netherlands), Trinidadian soprano Jeanine De Bique is recognized as an artist of “dramatic presence and versatility” (Washington Post, USA) and possessing “genuine star quality” (New York Amsterdam News).
De Bique holds a Master degree from the Manhattan School of Music. Her awards include First prize at the Young Concert Artists, Inc Music Competition, the Arleen Auger Prize at the Hertogenbosch International Vocal Competition, Third Prize in the Viotti International Music Competition and a prize winner at the Gerda Lissner Vocal Competition (New York). She was a finalist and a study grant award recipient of the 2011 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and received a study grant from the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation during her studies.
For more information on Ms. De Bique please visit her website: http://www.jeaninedebique.com/
American soprano Anastasia Talley’s voice has been noted for its “warmth and richness,” and she has garnered praise for “expressing great sensitivity and musical nuance.”
Talley is a dynamic performer whose versatility has allowed her to successfully perform opera, art song, concert work, jazz, and musical theater. She is a recent winner of the 2016 Concorso Lirico International Opera Competition held at Utah Festival Opera, where she made her debut as Suor Genovieffa in Suor Angelica.
Talley holds a master’s degree and performer diploma from Indiana University as well as a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi.
For more information please visit her website: http://www.anastasiatalley.com/.
Babatunde blessed my spirit this week with this car ride mashup. Yes, I’m speaking like I know this man personally because he made me feel like he was kindred with this one. Yes, this is exactly how I sound when I’m going off in the car. (SMILE) Babatunde is an amazing baritone if you haven’t heard him in his professional work let me help you out http://www.babatundebaritone.com/.
This young man’s story will melt the coldest of hearts. Anderson is proof that not all youths of today and singularly focused on pop, rap, R&B, or Hip-Hop music. There is room for a diversity of musical interest and this voice of his is a gift to the opera genre.
For more clips of Anderson singing please visit his Vimeo page: https://vimeo.com/operadream
This group gives me chills every time I hear them perform. It’s like being transported to another world winding and twisting your way to the inevitable destination of happiness. This is a classical music that compels you to move and become a part of the musical journey.
For more information please visit their website: http://blackviolin.net/.
An American jazz bassist and singer, Spalding was raised in Portland, Oregon, and was a musical prodigy, playing violin in the Chamber Music Society of Oregon at five years old. She was later both self-taught and -trained on a number of instruments, including guitar and bass. Her proficiency earned her scholarships to Portland State University and the Berklee College of Music. In 2017 she was appointed Professor of the Practice of Music at Harvard University.
She has won four Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Award for Best New Artist at the 53rd Grammy Awards, making her the first jazz artist to win the award.
For more information please visit her website: http://www.esperanzaspalding.com/
Nuttin’ But Stringz
This group consisted of the duo Tourie and Damien Escobar who both play the violin. The musicians hailed from Jamaica, Queens played a blend of classical music, hip-hop, jazz, and R&B. Both studied at Julliard, performed at Carnegie Hall, The White House and made music that went platinum during their run.
While there are many contemporary classical artists that I could have profiled here, my point is that we don’t highlight and celebrate the contributions of black and brown artists in this genre enough and that keeps younger generations from knowing that they even exist. Keep in mind, these are only a few CONTEMPORARY examples. I didn’t even tap into the historic contributions of black and brown people to the classical music scene. If you would like to learn more about some of the earlier contributors to “Classical Music History” here is a link to get you started.
Thanks for reading. If you found this listing to be helpful, let me know by commenting below. If you’d like for me to share more lists like this, let me know that too.
Marta C. Youngblood is a writer, education and social entrepreneur based in Hot Springs, Arkansas. For more information on her current projects visit https://about.me/MCyoungblood.