DSO announces significant new support for its African-American music and musician programs at 41st annual Classical Roots Concert and Celebration

- Dr. William F. Pickard doubles his contribution to the DSO to $1 million in support of the Arthur L. Johnson Fund for African-American Artists

- Dr. Pickard and Dr. Robert A. Harris honored at Classical Roots Celebration which raised $351,000 to support DSO programs

Detroit, (March 9, 2019) – The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) tonight announced significant new support for its African-American music and musician development programs at its 41st annual Classical Roots Concert and Celebration. Classical Roots honors African-American composers, musicians, educators, and benefactors for lifetime achievement and raises funds to support DSO programs that reflect the Classical Roots mission, such as its African-American Orchestra Fellowship and African-American Composer-in-Residence.

This year’s black-tie Classical Roots Celebration welcomed 375 guests for a pre-concert dinner and post-concert dancing and raised a record $351,000 to support DSO programs for African-American musicians. The Celebration was organized by a dedicated 40-person steering committee co-chaired by Keith Mobley and Laydell Harper Wyatt.

After intermission, the DSO honored composer, conductor, and educator Dr. Robert A. Harrisand the business leader and philanthropist Dr. William F. Pickard for lifetime achievement. As part of the presentation, DSO President and CEO Anne Parsons announced that Dr. Pickard, who had established the DSO’s Arthur L. Johnson Fund for African-American Artists with an initial contribution of $500,000 in 2012, was this year doubling his gift for a total of $1 million in support of the endowment fund. Named for the late civil rights activist, co-founder of Classical Roots, and mentor to Dr. Pickard, the fund provides support for the DSO to perform, commission, and record works by African-American composers and to feature African-American guest artists, not just in Classical Roots but throughout the year.

In recognition of Dr. Pickard’s generosity, the DSO announced that henceforth the annual Classical Roots Celebration will be named in honor of two of Dr. Pickard’s biggest mentors: the Dr. Arthur L. Johnson and Honorable Damon Jerome Keith Classical Roots Celebration.

This year’s Classical Roots concert, conducted by André Raphel, featured music by honoree Robert A. Harris (Gloria), William Grant Still (Symphony No. 1 “Afro-American”), and George Walker (Lyric for Strings), as well as a 134-voice Classical Roots Celebration Choir comprising the Brazeal Dennard Chorale, Wayne State University Symphonic Chorus, and members of the Detroit Choral Society. The Brazeal Dennard Chorale, which has performed at every Classical Roots concert, was featured in two spirituals.   

About Classical Roots 

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, civil rights activist Arthur Johnson, choral director 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 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 DSO

The most accessible orchestra on the planet, the acclaimed Detroit Symphony Orchestra is known for trailblazing performances, collaborations with the world’s foremost musical artists, and a deep connection to its city. As a community-supported orchestra, generous giving by individuals and institutions at all levels drives the continued success and growth of the institution. Conductor Leonard Slatkin, who recently concluded an acclaimed decade-long tenure at the helm, now serves as the DSO’s Music Director Laureate, endowed by the Kresge Foundation. Celebrated conductor, arranger, and trumpeter Jeff Tyzik is the orchestra’s Principal Pops Conductor, while the outstanding trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard holds the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Jazz Creative Director Chair. Making its home at historic Orchestra Hall within the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, the DSO offers a performance schedule that features Classical, PNC Pops, Paradise Jazz, and Young People’s Family Concert series. One of America’s most acoustically perfect concert halls, Orchestra Hall will celebrate its centennial in 2019-2020. In addition, the DSO presents the William Davidson Neighborhood Concert Series in seven metro area venues, as well as a robust schedule of eclectic multi-genre performances in its mid-size venue The Cube, constructed and curated with support from Peter D. & Julie F. Cummings. A dedication 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. With growing attendance and unwavering philanthropic support from the people of Detroit, the DSO actively pursues a mission to embrace and inspire individuals, families, and communities through unsurpassed musical experiences.