DSO honors pianist André Watts and cultural leader Chacona W. Baugh at annual Classical Roots Celebration

- Classical Roots honors African-American contributions to classical music; Watts will also perform at concerts

- Concerts, on March 6 and 7, will be conducted by Thomas Wilkins and feature the world premiere of Nkeiru Okoye’s work Black Bottom and a performance by the Brazeal Dennard Chorale

- The Arthur L. Johnson-Honorable Damon Jerome Keith Classical Roots Celebration on March 7 raises funds to support the DSO’s African-American music and musician development programs

- Additional community events planned, including chamber recital and classroom visits

Detroit, (February 4, 2020) – The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) will honor celebrated pianist André Watts and longtime orchestra supporter and cultural leader Chacona W. Baugh at the annual Arthur L. Johnson-Honorable Damon Jerome Keith Classical Roots Celebration. For 42 years, the DSO’s Classical Roots concerts have presented African-American composers and musicians, and since 2001, the Celebration has honored composers, musicians, educators, and leaders for lifetime achievement as well as raised funds to support the DSO’s African-American music and musician development programs.

The two Classical Roots concerts in Orchestra Hall (on Friday, March 6 at 10:45 a.m. and Saturday, March 7 at 8 p.m.) will be conducted by Thomas Wilkins and feature the DSO, the Brazeal Dennard Chorale, and Mr. Watts.

The program includes the world premiere of composer Nkeiru Okoye’s Black Bottom, a new work inspired by the historic African-American Detroit neighborhood of the same name. Sumayya Ali (soprano), Charlotte Small-Chestnut (mezzo-soprano), Bernard Holcomb (tenor), and Markel Reed (baritone) are featured soloists in this new work. Black Bottom is commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with a grant from The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.

Mr. Watts will be the featured soloist in Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand. Due to a nerve issue with his left hand, Mr. Watts is unable to perform the originally announced Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5, but he will appear in the concert, performing Ravel’s concerto with his right hand.  

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. Live from Orchestra Hall is presented by Ford Motor Company Fund and made possible by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Classical Roots dates to 1978 and was created by a group of Detroit artists and cultural leaders, including Ms. Baugh and her late husband Arthur Johnson. The Brazeal Dennard Chorale has performed at every Classical Roots concert since the program’s inception.

The black-tie Classical Roots Celebration – held since 2001 in conjunction with the concerts – will take place on Saturday, March 7. The Celebration was named for Arthur L. Johnson and Damon Jerome Keith in 2019 thanks to generous support from Dr. William Pickard, one of last year’s Honorees. The Detroit community will come together for a pre-concert dinner in the Peter D. and Julie F. Cummings Cube (The Cube) and a post-concert dessert and dancing afterglow. The Celebration raises funds to support the Classical Roots mission and is organized by a dedicated steering committee, co-chaired this year by H. Keith Mobley and Jasmin DeForrest. Visit dso.org/classicalroots for more information on the Celebration.

The Classical Roots mission extends beyond the concert hall. This year, several additional initiatives and events will share the DSO’s celebration of African-American music and leadership throughout the Detroit community:

  • Black Bottom Street View: To further celebrate the history and legacy of the Black Bottom neighborhood that inspired Okoye’s new work, the DSO is excited to announce a partnership with the Detroit Public Library (DPL) and Black Bottom Archives that brings a portion of the Black Bottom Street View project to the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center. The exhibit features a series of photos owned by The Burton Historical Collection at DPL that were taken by Detroit’s “Corporate Council” between 1949-1950 – just before the neighborhood was completely razed by the City of Detroit. The photos are displayed in a block-by-block grid that allows patrons to imagine walking through the neighborhood. Black Bottom Street View is currently on display on the third floor of the William Davidson Atrium and will remain in place through the Classical Roots weekend.
  • The Music of Duke Ellington – On A Turquoise Cloud: Singer/songwriter Candice Hoyes and bassist Noah Jackson curated, directed, and arranged this collection of rare and genre-bending Duke Ellington works that paved the way for today’s musical theater, soul, and contemporary classical music. At a one-night-only concert at The Cube on Saturday, February 29, a jazz quartet and string quartet will combine their efforts to shine a new light on Duke Ellington – who was the first artist to perform at the Paradise Theatre (the jazz and blues venue that Orchestra Hall became from 1941-1951), a detail not to be missed as the DSO celebrates Orchestra Hall’s centennial year.
  • Chamber Recital: DSO musicians will present a free chamber recital featuring music by Okoye on Monday, March 2 at Plymouth United Church of Christ in Detroit.
  • Classroom Visits: Six Detroit classrooms will participate in visits from Classical Roots artists (including Okoye and DSO African-American Orchestra Fellow Michael Gause) to discuss the journeys and accomplishments of African-Americans in classical music.

See below for more information, including ticketing details, about the February 29 concert in The Cube and the March 2 Chamber Recital. Please note: the full DSO does not appear on these performances.

Classical Roots is presented by Stanley and Judy Frankel, JPMorgan Chase, and DTE Energy Foundation with additional support from MGM Grand, Quicken Loans, Ascension Health, W. Harold Baugh and Chacona W. Baugh, Julie and Peter Cummings, The Fred A & Barbara M. Erb Foundation, Lauren and Phillip Fisher, and Wayne State University.

The DSO-DPL partnership and exhibition of Black Bottom Street View is supported by DTE Energy Foundation, Ann and James B. Nicholson, and Ford Motor Company Fund.

The DSO’s Classical Series is generously sponsored by PVS Chemicals.

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 through the DSO’s African-American Composer Residency and African-American Orchestra 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.

Classical Roots began as a concert at Detroit’s historic Bethel A.M.E. Church in 1978, featuring the DSO and the Brazeal Dennard Chorale. Immediately popular, the event outgrew the church and has taken place annually at Orchestra Hall since 1981. In 2001, Classical Roots expanded to include a black-tie gala and fundraiser, with luminary African-American musicians, leaders, educators, businesspeople, and philanthropists honored each year.

About This Year’s Honorees

André Watts is one of the world’s most distinguished and celebrated pianists. He made his New York Philharmonic debut at age 16 at the request of Leonard Bernstein and won the Avery Fisher Prize in 1988; at age 26 he became the youngest person to receive an honorary doctorate from Yale University. Watts has performed with virtually every major orchestra in the world and is a regular at festivals like Ravinia, Tanglewood, Hollywood Bowl, and more. He has proudly served on the faculty of Indiana University Jacobs School of Music since 2004.

Chacona W. Baugh is a longtime DSO supporter, former member of the orchestra's Board of Directors, and benefactor of the Classical Roots mission. Baugh and her late husband Arthur Johnson were among the first supporters of the Classical Roots Celebration. She has worked closely with the Classical Roots Steering Committee, co-chairing it in 2011 and 2012. Baugh spent over 30 years in higher education fundraising, serving in leadership roles at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University. She is passionate about the arts and has provided many years of board service with Detroit cultural organizations.

About the Artists

Thomas Wilkins currently serves as music director of the Omaha Symphony (a position he has held since 2005) and principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. He also serves on the faculty of Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music and is artistic advisor for education and community engagement at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Wilkins previously served as resident conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and conducted every Classical Roots concert from 2002 to 2009. He was named a Classical Roots Honoree in 2008 and returned to conduct at Classical Roots in 2015.

The Brazeal Dennard Chorale, founded in 1972 by Dr. Brazeal W. Dennard, is one of the longest standing organized choral groups in the country. For more than four decades, the Chorale has inspired audiences with its vocal excellence in the performance of choral music of all genres, while it continues to pursue the mission of its founder: to remember, discover, and preserve the spiritual music of the African American experience and culture.

Classical Roots Concerts: Details and Ticket Information

Classical Roots
Friday, March 6 at 10:45 a.m.
Saturday, March 7 at 8 p.m.
Orchestra Hall

Thomas Wilkins, conductor
André Watts, piano
The Brazeal Dennard Chorale
(Alice McAllister Tillman, Artistic Director)
Sumayya Ali, soprano
Charlotte Small-Chestnut, mezzo-soprano
Bernard Holcomb, tenor
Markel Reed, baritone

Program to include:

JOHNSON: Lift Every Voice and Sing
NKEIRU OKOYE: Voices Shouting Out
NKEIRU OKOYE: Black Bottom (world premiere) (Sumayya Ali, soprano; Charlotte Small-Chestnut, mezzo-soprano; Bernard Holcomb, tenor; Markel Reed, baritone)
STILL: Selections from Wood Notes
RAVEL: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (André Watts, piano)

Tickets start at $15 for the two Classical Roots concerts in Orchestra Hall 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.

To purchase gala tickets for the black-tie Classical Roots Celebration, please call Jenni Clark at (313) 576-5449. Learn more about Celebration packages at dso.org/classicalroots.

Other Events: Details and Ticket Information

Duke Ellington: On a Turquoise Cloud
Saturday, February 29 at 8 p.m.
The Cube

$18 – General admission (advance)
$25 – General admission (door)
$60 – VIP experience (includes reserved seating and a free drink)

Tickets 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).

Classical Roots Chamber Recital
Monday, March 2 at 7:30 p.m.
Plymouth United Church of Christ (600 E Warren Ave., Detroit)

This event is free and open to the public. No tickets are required for entry, and all seating is first-come, first-served.

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. Italian conductor Jader Bignamini was named the DSO’s new music director in January 2020 and will conduct his first full season in the role in 2021-22. 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 celebrates 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.