The Nation’s Oldest Black Music Organization celebrates 100 years in the Windy City.
by Patrick D. McCoy
With its initial beginnings in our Nation’s Capitol-Washington, D.C. on May 3, 1919, the first national convention of The National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc. (NANM) was held in Chicago, IL that same year, establishing its historic roots in ‘The Windy City.’
As the birthplace of the organization’s first branch of The National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc., it is only befitting that a large-scaled celebration to mark the centennial takes place in the culturally rich city of Chicago. Noted black musicians, teachers, performers of music young and old have come from across the country to mark this special milestone. Under the leadership of current NANM President Byron J. Smith, the aggregation of an exceptional cadre of musicians have heralded an exceptional legacy of music through special presentations, lectures, recitals and masterclasses that reflect 100 years of musical excellence.
The opening of the conference began with a celebratory gathering in the stately Rockerfeller Chapel. Resplendent in choral renderings, solos and works of African-American composers, the members of NANM joined together as the week of celebration began. Continuing July 14-19, the conference is in full swing and has been a wonderful showcase of the musical excellence of the national organization and certainly the vital contributions of the Chicago music community.
One of the hallmarks of the convention has been the showcasing of exceptional, young talent. Led by scholarship committee chair, Dr. Marvin V. Curtis, dean of the Raclin School of the Arts at Indiana Univerisity-South Bend, The Marian Anderson Vocal Arts Scholarship Competition was the perfect vehicle as singers from the five regions of NANM competed for the scholarship prizes. Bass Edwin Jhamal Davis was named as the First Prize Winner of the competition, representing the Eastern Region.
Continuing in the great tradition of music making, performances and workshops are an important component of the convention. Composer and conductor Dr. Robert A. Harris led informative conducting masterclass centered on the timeless oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel. Expert as well as beginning conductors had the opportunity to be coached by Harris with helpful conducting tips when approaching the very familiar, yet sometimes intricate choral work. The participants in the Marian Anderson Vocal Arts Scholarship Competition had the opportunity to sing a selection from their competition repertoire before the conference audience in a masterclass led by Dr. Marcia Porter. Baritone Alan Williams, tenor Elliott Brown, soprano Chantal Freeman, soprano Marlaina Alexis Owens and first prize winner: bass Edwin Jhamal Davis all had an opportunity to receive pointers and constructive advice from Porter, who is a respected soprano soloist and professor of voice.
On Monday night, the talented musicians of Chicago took to the stage in an evening of outstanding performances featuring artists from the local area. Notable performances included The Chatham Choral Ensemble, The Wooten Choral Ensemble The Pantastic Steel Pan Trio, vocal artists Kim Jones, Cynthia Clarey, Takesha Meshe Kizart, among others. A highlight was the premiere of “My Promise” by Chicago based composer Renee Baker by bass Arthur Griffin and violinist Phyllis Griffin. The finale and crowd-pleaser of the evening was the performance of “Make Them Hear You” by husband-wife team, soprano Alfreda Burke and tenor Rodrick Dixon.
The convention continues in Chicago through Friday July 19th, culminating with the Legacy Concert, featuring the premiere of the “Shine Symphony” by composer William Banfield.
A native of Petersburg, VA, Patrick holds a BM in Vocal Performance from Virginia State University and a MM in Church Music from Shenandoah Conservatory. Formerly the Performing Arts Columnist for Washington Life Magazine, he currently is a freelance writer, publishing articles for several noted publications, including The Washington Post, Early Music America Classical Music Voice North America, The Afro-American Newspaper, CBS Washington and Examiner.com. He is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America, National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc., The American Choral Directors’ Association, a member of the Shenandoah University Alumni Board of Directors and a Life Member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. He serves as Organist/Choirmaster at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Zion Parish in Beltsville, MD. Visit http://www.patrickdmccoy.com