February 15, 2021

Black History – Trailblazers and Luminaries

Black and white photo of CIM alumna Dolores White
Dolores White, MM '74

By: Hosanna Carella

CIM’s Newsroom includes a student-led blog with posts covering a variety of topics, including the CIM admissions process, student life, and interviews with faculty, students and alumni. CIM professional studies violinist Hosanna Carella, who is currently studying with Jan Sloman and Jaime Laredo, is a regular voice on the blog. Hosanna received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at CIM.

Representation and the survival of classical music are not the only reasons why diversity is important – it is a matter of humanity. With diversity comes new ideas, experiences, languages and ways of thinking that can compel us to question beliefs that otherwise would not have been challenged. Furthermore, it can provide communication skills, cultural values, traditions, culinary exposure and an increased understanding of the world. Diversity fuels our very existence. The ecosystems that surround us are diverse to their very core, they survive and thrive because of it.

An audience is a reflection of who and what is on a stage. From the early days of classical music, its audience has been white. Currently, 85% of musicians in US orchestras are white. In an increasingly diverse world, it is no wonder that classical music is suffering.[1] An audience will be drawn to what is on stage if it feels represented and acknowledged. But, the feeling of representation does not stop on the stage but goes as far as to include what is being performed on it. 

Non-white musicians have been leaving their mark on music for centuries. They have created classical works that rival those of Beethoven and Mozart and have created countless new musical genres that currently dominate the pop music charts. Their music is infused with elements and aspects of different cultures and backgrounds which will open a whole new way of seeing the world for both the performer and listener. As we dedicate time this month to acknowledge a vital and often neglected part of United States history, it is also important that we not lose sight of another important aspect of Black history: its music.

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-99)

A contemporary of Mozart and Beethoven, Bologne was a French violinist and composer who became the music director of the Concert de la Loge Olympique orchestra, fought alongside Alexandre Dumas (father) in the French Revolution and commissioned six symphonies from Joseph Haydn. Additionally, he was one of the main advocates for the sinfonia concertante during its early days. Among his notable works are 12 violin concerti, two symphonies, four sinfonias concertante and some of the first string quartets written in France. 

Recommended listening: Symphony in G major, Op. 11; Violin Sonata No. 1 in B-flat Major

Florence Price (1887-1953)

Born in Arkansas, Price was a composer, pianist and music teacher who had her first composition published at the age of 11. Even though she is considered a classical composer, her music showcases her southern roots and the American idiom. Her compositions include a large number of chamber music, solo piano and choral works. Additionally, she wrote four symphonies which lead her to be recognized as the first Black female symphonic composer.

Recommended listening: Elfentanz; Symphony No. 4 in D minor (1945)

Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-73)

An American singer, songwriter and guitarist, Tharpe is considered to one of the forerunners of rock and roll and influenced many of its notable musicians, including Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. She revolutionized electric guitar technique, which became one of the key factors of the “British blues” in the 1960s. Her No. 2 Billboard hit “Strange Things Happen Every Day” (1944) is regarded as the very first rock and roll record. Tharpe was included into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.

Recommended listening: Strange Things Happening Every Day; This Train

Dolores White (b. 1932) (pictured)

A Cleveland native who earned her master’s degree at CIM in 1974, White has embedded herself within the Cleveland musical scene leading it to blossom in many ways. Her works have been performed by the Dallas Symphony, Detroit Symphony and many others. Additionally, she has written works for the Cleveland Composers Guild which were premiered at CIM, and has been an advocate for Afro-Cuban music and African American arts.

Recommended listening: Blues Dialogues; Sometimes I’m Not Myself

Martina Arroyo (b. 1937)

Born in New York City to a Puerto Rican father and South Carolinian mother, Arroyo took the world of opera by storm during 1960s. She performed regularly with the Zurich Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, among others. She is best known for her performances of works written by Verdi. She was appointed to the National Council of the Arts by President Ford in 1976, is a member of the Board of Trustees of Carnegie Hall and received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2013.

Recommended listening: Schubert’s “Die junge Nonne,” D. 828; Verdi’s Aida, “Ritorna vincitor!”

Jessie Montgomery (b. 1981)

A Manhattan native, Montgomery began playing the violin at an early age and went on to complete a bachelor’s degree from the Juilliard School and a master’s degree in Composition at NYU. A two-time laureate of the Sphinx competition, she currently holds the position of composer-in-residence and is also a Graduate Fellow at Princeton University. She has written works for the San Francisco Symphony, Atlanta Symphony and Dallas Symphony, among others.

Recommended listening: Rhapsody No. 1 (2014); Banner (2014)

Many times, the truth of history is not found in standard textbooks as they are written from one point of view. Black history has been purposely hidden and silenced for centuries and it is our duty to bring it into the light. Not only have Black people contributed immensely to music, but also to technology, culture, fashion, language and literature. The time to give credit where credit is due, is long-overdue. Black history is United States history, and it should be unequivocally acknowledged as such.

In June of last year, CIM students, faculty and staff gathered to create a Program Advisory Committee. One purpose of this committee is to provide a database  consisting of information on composers and artists of color for the CIM community. During this month, broaden your horizons and find your next favorite piece or artist! Find their work here.

[1] Doeser, James. “Racial / Ethnic and Gender Diversity in the Orchestra Field a Report by the League of American Orchestras.” americanorchestras.org, Sept. 2016, americanorchestras.org/images/stories/diversity/Racial-Ethnic-and-Gender-Diversity-in-the-Orchestra-Field-Final-92116.pdf