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DSO honors tenor George Shirley and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation president Earl Lewis at 40th annual Classical Roots concerts, March 2-3

Classical Roots celebrates African-American contributions to classical music

Program features choral music performed by 150-voice 40th Anniversary Celebration Choir, including Undine Smith Moore’s Scenes from the Life of a Martyr, a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., presented in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his assassination

Classical Roots mission extends into the community in weeks before the event with school visits, chamber recital, and a composer-in-residence

Detroit, (February 19, 2017) – The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) will honor trailblazing tenor and educator George Shirley and visionary leader and academic Earl Lewis, President of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, at the 40th annual Classical Roots Concert, March 2-3, 2018. Classical Roots honors African-American composers, musicians, and educators for lifetime achievement and raises funds to support the DSO’s African-American music and musician development programs.

The Classical Roots Celebration, including the 8 p.m. concert and pre- and post-performance receptions, takes place on Saturday, March 3, 2018 at the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center. A concert-only performance is also scheduled for Friday, March 2, 2018 at 10:45 a.m. in Orchestra Hall.

Joseph Young will conduct. The Saturday evening concert will be webcast for free at dso.org/live and via Facebook Live, as part of the DSO’s groundbreaking Live from Orchestra Hall series. The series is presented by Ford Motor Company Fund and made possible by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The first Classical Roots concert took place in 1978 at Detroit’s historic Bethel AME Church. Co-founded by the DSO’s then-Resident Conductor Paul Freeman, arts patron and civil rights activist Arthur Johnson, choral director and artistic administrator Brazeal Dennard, and other prominent African-American leaders, Classical Roots soon outgrew Bethel AME and moved to Orchestra Hall, where it has been a beloved annual tradition ever since. The gala fundraiser and lifetime achievement component were added in 2001.

The Brazeal Dennard Chorale has been a nucleus of Classical Roots since the beginning, and to mark the 40-year history of the event, Classical Roots 2018 will feature the 40th Anniversary Celebration Choir, a 150-voice mixed chorus comprising singers from the Brazeal Dennard Chorale, Wayne State University, the Detroit School of the Arts, and the Detroit Choral Society. The 40th Anniversary Celebration Choir was specially assembled by Norah Duncan IV, Professor and Chair of the Wayne State University Department of Music.

As is tradition, this year’s concerts will begin with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often referred to as the Black American National Anthem, featuring the 40th Anniversary Celebration Choir. Members of the Brazeal Dennard Chorale will then sing the spiritual “I Know I’ve Been Changed,” before the orchestra performs Johann Strauss’s Overture to Die Fledermaus—in honor of George Shirley, as Die Fledermaus was the first opera he sang professionally. Rounding out the first half of the program is Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 4 with guest horn soloist Joshua Williams, winner of the 2017 International Horn Competition of America.

The 40th anniversary Classical Roots program culminates with a performance of Undine Smith Moore’s Scenes from the Life of a Martyr, an oratorio written in tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The work will be presented nearly one month prior to the 50th anniversary of the civil rights leader’s assassination on April 4, 1968. The performance will feature the DSO, honoree George Shirley as narrator, the 40th Anniversary Celebration Choir, and vocal soloists Janice Chandler-Eteme (soprano), Olivia Johnson (mezzo-soprano), and Issachah Savage (tenor).

In the weeks preceding Classical Roots, the DSO extends the program’s mission beyond the concert hall, with school visits by musicians and other community events. This includes a free chamber recital on Monday, February 26 at Plymouth United Church of Christ featuring DSO musicians and a performance of GRIME, an original work by the DSO’s Classical Roots African-American Composer in Residence Evan Williams. The Composer in Residence is a new addition for the 40th anniversary year. Learn more at dso.org/classicalroots and dso.org/composerresidency.

Classical Roots is presented by Stanley and Judy Frankel and made possible by J.P. Morgan Chase and the DTE Energy Foundation. This year’s Classical Roots Co-Chairs are Therese Peace Agboh and Janice Cosby. See below for the full Classical Roots Committee.

About Classical Roots

The mission of the Classical Roots Celebration is to increase awareness of the contributions of African-American composers and musicians through performance and recordings, and to support increased opportunities for African-Americans in classical music and support the DSO’s music development programs, including the African-American Composer Residency and African-American Fellowship.

The DSO has for years been at the forefront of the movement to celebrate the contributions of African-American composers, nurture the talents of young African-American classical musicians, and increase access and opportunity for younger African-Americans who might never otherwise experience the magic of classical music. For more information about Classical Roots, visit dso.org/classicalroots.

About the Honorees

George Shirley (tenor) is in demand nationally and internationally as performer, teacher, and lecturer. He is the Joseph Edgar Maddy Distinguished University Emeritus Professor of Voice at the University of Michigan.

He has won international acclaim for his performances in the world's great opera houses, and has recorded for RCA, Columbia, Decca, Angel, Vanguard, CRI, and Philips. He received a Grammy Award in 1968 for his role (Ferrando) in the RCA recording of Mozart's Così fan tutte. In addition to oratorio and concert literature, Mr. Shirley has, in a career that spans 49 years, performed more than 80 operatic roles in major opera houses around the globe with many of the world's most renowned conductors.

Professor Shirley was the first African-American to be appointed to a high school teaching post in music in Detroit, the first African-American member of the United States Army Chorus in Washington, D.C., and the first African-American tenor and second African-American male to sing leading roles with the Metropolitan Opera, where he remained for eleven years.

Mr. Shirley has served on three occasions as a master teacher in the National Association of Teachers of Singing Intern Program for Young NATS Teachers. He was also a member of the faculty of the Aspen Music Festival and School for ten years.

Earl Lewis became the sixth President of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in March 2013. Under his guidance, the Foundation has reaffirmed its commitment to the humanities, the arts, and higher education by emphasizing the importance of continuity and change. Prior to joining The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Mr. Lewis served as Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of History and African American Studies at Emory University. As Provost, Lewis led academic affairs and academic priority setting for the university.

A noted social historian, Mr. Lewis has held faculty appointments at the University of California at Berkeley (1984–89) and the University of Michigan (1989–2004). He has championed the importance of diversifying the academy, enhancing graduate education, re-visioning the liberal arts, exploring the role of digital tools for learning, and connecting universities to their communities. He is author and co-editor of seven books.

A native of Tidewater, Virginia, Mr. Lewis earned an undergraduate degree in history and psychology from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He has been a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2008. Mr. Lewis holds honorary doctorates from Carnegie Mellon University, Rutgers University, and Dartmouth College; and awards and recognitions from Concordia College, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Michigan.

About the Conductor and Guest Artists

Please contact DSO PR Coordinator Ben Breuninger for more complete artist information.

Joseph Young is the Ruth Blaustein Rosenberg Artistic Director of Ensembles at the Peabody Conservatory. He previously served as Assistant Conductor of the Atlanta Symphony and Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra. He was a recipient of the Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Award in 2015, 2013, and 2008. A graduate of the University of South Carolina and the Peabody Conservatory, his teachers include Gustav Meier and Markand Thakar.

Joshua Williams is a rising star among a new generation of horn artists, most recently winning First Prize in the professional division of the 2017 International Horn Competition of America. A native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, he is currently in the final stages of completing his Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Alabama, where his primary teacher is Charles “Skip” Snead.

Janice Chandler-Eteme, soprano, has performed an astonishing range of concert literature with ensembles across the world. In 2009, she joined the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for Hannibal Lokumbe’s Dear Mrs. Parks, which was also recorded and released on Naxos with help from the Classical Roots Chair Circle of Friends. She holds degrees from Oakwood College and Indiana University, and has studied with Virginia Zeani, Margaret Harshaw, Ginger Beazley, and Todd Duncan.

Olivia Johnson, mezzo-soprano, recently earned her master’s degree in voice performance at the University of Michigan. She is currently a member of Michigan Opera Theatre’s Touring Ensemble, and last summer won first place in the National Vocal Arts Competition for Emerging Artists sponsored by the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc. She graduated from East Carolina University in 2014.

Issachah Savage, tenor, is the winner of the 2014 Seattle International Wagner Competition, earning the main prize, audience favorite prize, orchestra favorite prize, and a special honor by Speight Jenkins. A champion of Verdi and Wagner, Savage recently appeared with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín, a multimedia performance of Verdi’s Requiem that tells the stories of prisoners at a Nazi ghetto and concentration camp who performed the piece as an act of resistance.

Classical Roots Committee

The DSO thanks the members of this year’s Classical Roots Committee for their leadership:

Ms. Therese Peace Agboh, Co-Chair

Ms. Janice Cosby, Co-Chair

Ms. Geaneen Arends

Mr. Eliot Banks

Ms. Erica Banks

Mr. Sherman C. Barton

Mr. Cornell Batie

Mrs. Chacona W. Baugh

Mr. Austin Black II

Ms. Rochelle Black

Ms. Candice Bowman

Ms. Nicole Brown

Ms. Caroline Chambers

Ms. Garnet Conerway

Mr. Terrence Curry

Ms. Jasmin DeForrest

Ms. Linda Forte

Mr. Atiim Funchess

Ms. Linda Gillum

Ms. Laurie Goldman

Dr. Herman Gray

Ms. Antoinette Green

Ms. Algea Hale, Ph.D.

Ms. Vera Heidelberg

Mr. Stephen Hudson

Ms. Mable V. Jones, Ph. D.

Ms. Rita L. Jordan

Ms. Sandra O. Kent

Ms. Elizabeth Mays

Mr. Anthony McCree

Mr. Keith Mobley

Ms. Janice Morlock

Dr. Willis C. Patterson

Mr. Michael Perkins

Ms. Vivian Pickard

Mr. James Rose

Mr. Shannon D. Smith

Ms. Marlo D. Staples

Mr. Marlowe Stoudamire

Mrs. Michele Tate

Mr. Jason E. Tinsley

Mr. Daniel Washington

Ms. Anne Wilczak

Ms. Alexis Wiley

Ms. Dana Williams

Ms. Geneva Williams, PhD

Mr. Lamar Willis

Ms. Lauren Winn

Ms. Laydell Harper Wyatt

Ms. Ellen Hill Zeringue

List of Previous Classical Roots Honorees

2001: George Walker

2002: Undine Smith Moore* and Brazeal W. Dennard

2003: Adolphus Hailstork

2004: Wayne Brown, Ulysses Simpson Kay*, and Nellie Watts

2005: Hannibal Lokumbe

2006: Kathleen Battle

2007: Aaron P. Dworkin and Coleridge Taylor-Perkinson*

2008: Thomas Wilkins

2009: William Grant Still* 

2010: Olly Wilson

2012: Arthur Johnson* and Hale Smith*

2013: James DePreist*

2014: Dr. Robert E. L. Perkins and Dr. Willis C. Patterson

2015: Judge Damon Keith and Joseph Striplin

2016: Jessye Norman and Dr. Silas Norman, Jr.*

2017: Regina Carter and Terence Blanchard

2018: George Shirley and Dr. Earl Lewis

* posthumous

Ticket Information

Concert-only Classical Roots tickets begin at $15 and can be purchased at dso.org, by calling (313) 576-5111, or in person at the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center (3711 Woodward Avenue, Detroit). For group ticket information (groups of 10 or more), please contact Group Sales Manager Jim Sabatella at (313) 576-5130 or jsabatella@dso.org.

Classical Roots Celebration tickets—which include a preconcert reception and strolling dinner, the Classical Roots concert, and the post-concert afterglow—can be purchased by calling Jacqueline Garner at (313) 576-5120. Attendees aged 40 and under are eligible to purchase Young Friends tickets for $85, and full-price tickets begin at $250. Sponsorship opportunities are also available.

About the DSO

Hailed by The New York Times as “cutting edge,” the internationally acclaimed Detroit Symphony Orchestra is known for trailblazing performances, visionary maestros, collaborations with the world’s foremost musical artists, and an ardent commitment to Detroit. As a community-supported orchestra, generous giving by individuals and institutions at all levels drives the continued success and growth of the institution. Esteemed conductor Leonard Slatkin, called “America’s Music Director” by the Los Angeles Times, became the DSO’s 12th Music Director, endowed by the Kresge Foundation, in 2008. Acclaimed conductor, arranger, and trumpeter Jeff Tyzik serves as Principal Pops Conductor, while celebrated trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard holds the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Jazz Creative Director Chair. With growing attendance and unwavering philanthropic support from the Detroit community, the DSO’s performance schedule includes Classical, Pops, Jazz, Young People’s, and Neighborhood concerts, and collaborations with high profile artists from Steven Spielberg to Ben Folds and Lang Lang. In July 2017, the DSO embarked on its first international tour in 16 years, making its debut in China and first visit to Japan in 19 years. A commitment to broadcast innovation began in 1922, when the DSO became the first orchestra in the world to present a radio broadcast, and continues today with the free Live from Orchestra Hall webcast series, which also reaches tens of thousands of children with the Classroom Edition expansion. Making its home at historic Orchestra Hall within the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, one of America’s most acoustically perfect concert halls, the DSO actively pursues a mission to embrace and inspire individuals, families, and communities through unsurpassed musical experiences.

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For Press Inquiries, please contact:

Ben Breuninger
Public Relations Coordinator
bbreuninger@dso.org | 313.576.5196