A Touring Celebration:  Legendary conductor and composer Roland Carter recently appeared in Washington, D.C., as guest conductor of a special concert of his own works, as well the music from the Sacred Concerts of Duke Ellington.

by Patrick D. McCoy

It would be a bold, yet very true statement that Roland Carter‘s arrangement of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” has to be one of the most frequently and widely performed.  At a very special concert a few weeks ago in Silver Spring, MD, Dr. Carter conducted The Artist’s Group Chorale in that very anthem that opened the program.  The full audience rose to their feet as the pipe organ played masterfully by Omar Dickenson summoned the listeners with its opening fanfare and robust support.  The voices of chorale gave beautiful vocal presence to the rendering of this important anthem and it was even more thrilling as the audience also lifted their voices at Carter’s every precise direction.  Concluding with a soaring, majestic ‘Amen,’ the voices with the organ gave a foretaste of what was to come in the afternoon of music.

This was not just a random appearance by Carter.  Carter who is known all over the world as a pianist, composer and conductor is marking his 75th birth year with several concert appearances, lectures and workshops.  Roland Carter is perhaps most celebrated for his 23-year tenure at the University of Tennessee as Professor of Music and 24-years as Director of Choral Activities at Hampton University.  As a footnote, it was quite gratifying to witness current Hampton Director of Choirs Omar Dickenson work under Carter’s tutelage in a ‘live’ musical performance.  The program was hosted by the Ben Holt Memorial Branch of the National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc.-of which Kelvin Page serves as President.

The program continued with several of Carter’s choral arrangements of spirituals, as well as a few for solo voice with the composer at the piano.  How thrilling it must be to sing under the baton of a living, breathing composer!  At the conclusion of the concert’s first half, there was an intermission that prepared the audience for a musical contrast.  Guest soloist DeVonne Gardiner joined the chorale on the second half of the concert in music from Duke Ellington’s “Sacred Service.”  A favorite of Ellington’s, her performing record with the great composer and bandleader began when she was 16 years old  A voice of remarkable control and contrast, Gardiner had the ability to emit shimmering high notes, to rich smooth sounds that poured like maple syrup. Trumpeter A. Bruce Frazier was certainly a standout throughout the afternoon, with his accurate musical flair and showmanship that kept the listener on the edge of their seat.

After several movements of the sacred music by Ellington, the program was brought to its conclusion with “The Majesty of God.”  Evoking an almost ethereal presence in the performance in the space, the lyrical voice of Gardiner and the very present voices of The Artist’s Group Chorale of Washington brought us all to the end of a fantastic portrait concert of music by two great composer.



A native of Petersburg, Virginia, Patrick D. McCoy is a graduate of Virginia State University and Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia.  He has been an arts contributor for Examiner.com, CBS Washington, The Afro American Newspaper and most recently was the Performing Arts Columnist at Washington Life Magazine for four years. As a church musician, he currently serves as Organist/Choirmaster at Saint John’s Episcopal Church (Zion Parish) in Beltsville, Maryland.   Visit www.patrickdmccoy.com for all of your arts news and send press releases and ideas to patrickdmccoy@patrickdmccoy.com.