DSO presents 46th annual Classical Roots concerts, March 1 and 2

The Arthur L. Johnson – Honorable Damon Jerome Keith Classical Roots Celebration on March 2 raises funds to support the DSO’s African American music and musician development programs

Additional Classical Roots events include student workshop led by Detroit cellist, music educator, and WRCJ 90.9 FM host Cecelia Sharpe

March 1 concert broadcast and streamed live on 90.9 WRCJ in Detroit and network of stations across Michigan; March 2 concert will be webcast for free at dso.orgYouTube, and on Facebook as part of DSO’s Live from Orchestra Hall series

Detroit, (January 23, 2024) – The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) will present the 46th annual Classical Roots concerts in Orchestra Hall on Friday, March 1 at 10:45 a.m. and Saturday March 2 at 8 p.m. At the 23rd annual Arthur L. Johnson – Honorable Damon Jerome Keith Classical Roots Celebration on March 2, the DSO will honor Grammy Award-winning composer and jazz pianist Billy Childs and longtime DSO Board member Shirley Stancato. The event will also celebrate poet, playwriter, performance artist, and producer jessica Care moore as this year’s recipient of the Marlowe Stoudamire Award for Innovation and Community Collaboration, presented in memory of late Detroit community leader and Classical Roots Steering Committee member Marlowe Stoudamire.

Classical Roots honors African American composers, musicians, educators, and leaders for lifetime achievement and raises funds to support the DSO’s African American music and musician development programs.

This year’s performances will be conducted by Na’Zir McFadden (DSO Assistant Conductor and Phillip and Lauren Fisher Community Ambassador), and the Brazeal Dennard Chorale—a vital part of Classical Roots since its inception—and Artistic Director Alice McAllister Tillman will open both performances with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which has been performed at the beginning of every Classical Roots concert since the event’s inauguration in 1978.

In addition to works performed by the Brazeal Dennard Chorale, the program will include a new Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra titled Diaspora by Billy Childs, Adolphus Hailstork’s Fanfare on “Amazing Grace,” Duke Ellington’s “Lake” from The River, and Both by Shelley Washington. Childs’s Diaspora was co-commissioned by the DSO and written for saxophonist Steven Banks, who will perform the work on this program. The three-movement concerto will explore aspects of the African American experience in America and takes inspiration from such poets as Nayyirah Waheed, Claude McKay, and Maya Angelou. The co-commission for Shelley Washington’s Both is part of the Amplifying Voices program, a New Music USA initiative powered by the Sphinx Venture Fund, with additional support from ASCAP, the Sorel Organization, the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, and the Wise Music Charitable Foundation. Amplifying Voices fosters collaboration and collective action between US orchestras and composers toward racial and gender equity in classical music.

The March 1 concert will be broadcast and streamed live on 90.9 WRCJ in Detroit and network of stations across Michigan. The March 2 performance will be webcast for free at dso.org and via Facebook Live as part of the DSO’s Live from Orchestra Hall series

The concerts will be the culminating event of Classical Roots educational and community offerings. Before the morning concert on March 1, the DSO will hold a student workshop with Detroit cellist, music educator, and WRCJ 90.9 FM host Cecelia Sharpe to engage students in a discussion on the program's content.

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, along with other prominent African American leaders including choral director and artistic administrator Brazeal Dennard, Classical Roots soon outgrew Bethel AME and moved to Orchestra Hall in 1981, where it has been a beloved annual tradition ever since. The gala Classical Roots Celebration and lifetime achievement component were added in 2001. The Celebration was named the Arthur L. Johnson – Honorable Damon Jerome Keith Classical Roots Celebration in 2019 following a generous endowment gift from Dr. William F. Pickard, who counted Johnson and Keith as his two biggest mentors.

The Celebration raises funds to support the Classical Roots mission and is organized by a dedicated steering committee, co-chaired this year by Priscilla Perkins and Mable V. Jones, Ph.D. Celebration attendees will enjoy a seated dinner in the Peter D. and Julie F. Cummings Cube, Classical Roots concert, and afterglow with dessert and dancing. For information on the Classical Roots Celebration, contact DSO Director of Donor Engagement Ali Huber at ahuber@dso.org or 313.576.5449, or visit dso.org.

Tickets to all events can be purchased at dso.org or by calling the Box Office at 313.576.5111, open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets for the March 1 and 2 Classical Roots concerts start at $19.

The title sponsor of the DSO’s Classical Series is PVS Chemicals, Inc. DSO Live is presented by Ford Motor Company Fund. Technology support comes from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Digital programming is produced from the Al Glancy Control Room. Digital programming is produced from the Al Glancy Control Room. The Celebration is presented by Stanley and Judy Frankel, J.P. Morgan Chase, and DTE Foundation. Additional support is provided by W. Harold and Chacaona W. Baugh, Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, Flagstar Bank, Gilbert Family Foundation, MGM Grand Detroit, Christine and David Provost, the Sphinx Organization, and Wayne State UniversityThe DSO thanks Lambert for their Legacy Sponsorship of Classical Roots.


Friday, March 1, 2024 at 10:45 a.m.
Saturday, March 2, 2024 at 8 p.m.
Orchestra Hall
Na’Zir McFadden, conductor
Steven Banks, saxophone
Brazeal Dennard Chorale, choir (Alice McAllister Tillman, Artistic Director)
Program to include:
ARR. MOSES HOGAN “The Battle of Jericho”
ADOLPHUS HAILSTORK Fanfare on “Amazing Grace”
SHELLEY WASHINGTON Both [DSO co-commission]
WILLIAM EDWARD “BILLY” CHILDS Diaspora (Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra) [DSO co-commission]
Classical Roots has celebrated the contributions of African American composers and artists for nearly fifty years. This season, we hear new music from Shelley Washington, who focuses "on exploring emotions and intentions by finding their root cause." Saxophonist Steven Banks, "one of the transformational musicians of the twenty-first century" (Seen and Heard International), performs a new concerto written for him by Grammy Award-winner Billy Childs.

The co-commission for Shelley Washington’s Both is part of the Amplifying Voices program, a New Music USA initiative powered by the Sphinx Venture Fund, with additional support from ASCAP, the Sorel Organization, the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, and the Wise Music Charitable Foundation. 


About This Year’s Honorees
Billy Childs has emerged as one of the foremost American composers of his era—successfully marrying the musical products of his heritage with the Western neoclassical traditions of the twentieth century in a powerful symbiosis of style, range, and dynamism. A native of Los Angeles, Childs grew up immersed in jazz, classical, and popular music influences. A prodigious talent at the piano earned him public performances by age six, and at 16 he was admitted to the USC Community School of the Performing Arts. By the time of his graduation from USC, Childs was already an in-demand performer in the Los Angeles jazz scene. He embarked on a successful performing and recording tour soon thereafter. Simultaneously with his recording career, Childs has occupied a parallel niche as an in-demand composer. His orchestral and chamber commission credits include  Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Leonard Slatkin. Thus far in his career, Childs has garnered 17 Grammy nominations and five awards, including the most recent—a 2015 win for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for his album Rebirth.


Shirley Stancato is a seasoned executive, prominent civic leader, race relations specialist, and social justice advocate. For almost 20 years, Stancato served as president and chief executive officer of New Detroit Inc., metropolitan Detroit’s leadership coalition devoted solely to improving race relations. Stancato is an architect of civic engagement opportunities that bridge economic, geographical, and racial divides. Prior to joining New Detroit, Stancato enjoyed a long career at NBD (now Chase Bank), where she became Senior Vice President. As leader of the bank’s foundation, she was responsible for its corporate giving program providing support for community initiatives throughout its footprint in Michigan. Stancato currently serves on several boards, including Fifth Third Bank of Eastern Michigan, the Coleman A. Young Foundation, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Detroit Zoological Society, and the International Women’s Forum Michigan. She currently serves as Board Vice Chair of the Wayne State University Board of Governors. Stancato’s honors include the Champion of Justice Award from the Michigan Delegation of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Woman of Achievement by the Anti-Defamation League. Additionally, she was named a Woman of Excellence by the Michigan Chronicle and Michiganian of the Year by The Detroit News.


jessica Care moore is one of the leading voices of her generation. An award-winning poet, recording artist, book publisher, activist, cultural arts curator, and filmmaker, she is executive producer and founder of Daughters of Betty (the 20-year-old rock & roll concert and empowerment weekend powered by Black Women Rock!) and founder of The Moore Art House, a nonprofit organization dedicated to elevating literacy through the arts in neighborhoods and schools. moore’s publishing house, Moore Black Press, has published poets including Saul Williams, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, asha bandele, and Danny Simmons, and in 2024 is preparing to publish their first poetry and spoken word audiobooks through an imprint deal with HarperCollins. Throughout her career, moore has mentored youth across the United States and has lent her voice and time to juvenile detention centers, prisons, universities, and art institutions around the country. 

moore has recorded her poetry with hip hop legends including Common, Nas, Jeezy, Talib Kweli, Karriem Riggins, techno pioneer Jeff Mills, The Last Poets, Jose James, and Roy Ayers, with writer Greg Tate calling her poetry “A black scream.” moore is the author of The Words Don’t Fit in My MouthThe Alphabet Verses The Ghetto, God is Not an American, and Sunlight Through Bullet Holes. Her fifth book, We Want Our Bodies Back (HarperCollins, 2020) won the American Library Association Black Caucus Poetry Honor. Her first children's book, Her Crown Shines (illustrated by Dare Coulter), is slated for publish by HarperCollins in 2024The namesake celebratory poem caught the attention of Oprah Winfrey, who shared it widely on her social media pages.

moore's full-scale theatrical work, Salt City, a futurist techno choreopoem, premiered at the Apollo Theater in April 2023. Also in 2023, she received a Spirit of Detroit Award, a Hero Award in the cultural arts category from the Torch of Wisdom Foundation, and the "Trailblazing Poet" award from Words, Beats & Life in Washington DC, in addition to a Testimonial Resolution from the City Council of Detroit. Appointed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, moore previously served on the Michigan Arts and Culture Council. She is a 2019 and 2017 Knight Arts Recipient, a 2018 Joyce Award Winner, 2016 Kresge Artist Fellow, the 2013 Alain Locke Award Recipient, and the 2015 NAACP Great Expectation Award Recipient.

moore's anticipated rock & roll project is a collaboration with powerhouse rock singer Steffanie Christ’ian. The duo’s album (and group name), We Are Scorpio, is slated for release in March 2024 on Talib Kweli’s Javotti Media label and moore’s Black Women Rock! brand.  

In 2023, moore was invited by the family of Malcolm X to read her work at the Shabazz Center, alongside Angela Davis and civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump. She has read her poems and lent her powerful voice to meaningful causes around the world including the United Nations World AIDS Day, Shanghai's Iron Mic music festival, Berlin’s international poetry festival, Brazil’s Festa Literária das Periferias, and Ghana’s Afrochella festival. Her work has graced the stages of renowned venues including the Apollo Theater, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the London Institute of Contemporary Arts.

The ambitious poet is in post-production with her first feature film, He Looked Like A Postcard (directed by Qasim Basir), which moore produced, wrote, and performed in with co-star Tobias Truvillion.  

moore captivated a national television audience in the ‘90s when she won the legendary It’s Showtime at the Apollo competition a record-breaking five times in a row—with a poem. moore's poetry and voice is prominently featured on the fourth floor of the Smithsonian's new National Museum of African American History and Culture. A proud Detroiter, moore lives in the city with her son King, a musician, writer, and actor.


About Na’Zir McFadden
American conductor Na’Zir McFadden is the Assistant Conductor and Phillip & Lauren Fisher Community Ambassador of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, working closely with Music Director Jader Bignamini. McFadden also serves as Music Director of the Detroit Symphony Youth Orchestra. Together, they’ll present three programs—exploring masterworks by Tchaikovsky, Valerie Coleman, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Margaret Bonds, respectively.

Establishing his presence on the classical music scene, the 2023–2024 season includes a debut with the Ann Arbor Symphony and a return to the Philadelphia Ballet in addition to maintaining several ongoing engagements with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He’ll also serve as a guest cover conductor for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. In the 2022–2023 season, he made his subscription debut with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra alongside bass-baritone Davóne Tines and clarinetist Anthony McGill. In March of 2024, he will return to conduct the DSO’s annual Classical Roots program premiering two new works by composers Billy Childs and Shelly Washington. Other conducting highlights have included debuts with the Utah Symphony Orchestra, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, and the Philadelphia Ballet.

Additionally, McFadden led a recording project with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago featuring Hilary Hahn as co-collaborator and soloist. This past summer, McFadden participated in the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Conducting Seminar as part of the Tanglewood Institute under the guidance of Andris Nelsons and Stefan Asbury. In 2020, McFadden was named the inaugural Apprentice Conductor of the Philadelphia Ballet; a position he held until 2022. He also served as the Robert L. Poster Conducting Apprentice of the New York Youth Symphony from 2020 to 2021. At the age of 16, he conducted his hometown orchestra—The Philadelphia Orchestra—in their “Pop-Up” series, meeting their Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin who has since served as a mentor to McFadden.

The Philadelphia Inquirer praised his “great stick [baton] technique and energetic presence on the podium” in their concert review. An advocate for arts education, McFadden strives to provide access to the arts for students in underserved communities. Currently, McFadden is a board member of Generation Music, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization that provides classical music education to underrepresented youth in local school districts that cannot afford to do so. His efforts have led to collaborations with youth ensembles in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and Salt Lake City.

About Steven Banks
As a performer and composer, saxophonist Steven Banks is striving to bring his instrument to the heart of the classical music world. He is driven to program and write music that directly addresses aspects of the human experience and is an active and intentional supporter of diverse voices in the future of concert music. Rick Perdian of Seen and Heard International has said “one senses that Banks has the potential to be one of the transformational musicians of the twenty-first century.”


Banks is establishing himself as a compelling and charismatic soloist and in 2022 was awarded the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant and was a chosen artist for WQXR’s Artist Propulsion Lab. He was the first saxophonist to be awarded First Prize at the Young Concert Artists Susan Wadsworth International Auditions. Critics have consistently recognized Banks for his warm yet glowing tone, well-crafted and communicative musical expression, and deft technical abilities.


Banks has appeared with The Cleveland Orchestra, the Montreal Symphony, the Utah Symphony, the Colorado Symphony, the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, and the Aspen Festival Orchestra, and has enjoyed working with such conductors as Franz Welser-Most, Xian Zhang, Nicholas McGegan, Rafael Payare, John Adams, Peter Oundjian, Jahja Ling, Matthias Pintscher, Alain Altinoglu, and Roderick Cox.


In recital, he has appeared across the US at the San Francisco Symphony’s Spotlight Series at Davies Hall, Merkin Hall, The Kennedy Center, The Kravis Center, and Festival Napa Valley with his collaborative partner, pianist Xak Bjerken. A keen chamber musician, Banks has appeared at Spoleto Festival USA, Chamber Music Chicago, and the Aspen Music Festival, and is the first artist-in-residence of the Skaneateles Festival in the 2023–2024 season. He has collaborated with the Borromeo and St. Lawrence string quartets and will work with the Dover and Verona quartets in the coming seasons. He is a founding member of the Kenari Quartet, an all-saxophone ensemble that performs regularly together offering inspiring and uplifting compositions and arrangements. As baritone saxophonist of Kenari, Banks won first prize at the inaugural M-Prize Chamber Arts Competition and has garnered two silver medals from the Fischoff Chamber Music Competition. Their album, French Saxophone Quartets, was released in 2016 on the Naxos label.


In 2023 and 2024, Banks will premiere and tour with a commissioned concerto from Grammy Award-winning composer Billy Childs. The nine co-commissioning orchestras are the Kansas City Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Aspen Music Festival, the Chautauqua Institution, the New World Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, and the San Diego Symphony, with Young Concert Artists being the tenth partner in the consortium. The three movement, 20-minute concerto will explore aspects of the African American experience in America and takes inspiration from such poets as Nayyirah Waheed, Claude McKay, and Maya Angelou.


As a composer, Banks has been commissioned by organizations including Young Concert Artists, WQXR’s Artist Propulsion Lab, Latitude 49, Yale University’s Project 14 Initiative, and Northwestern University’s Saxophone Ensemble. Jarrett Hoffman of Cleveland Classical has said that his music showcases “a unique and ambitious blend of feelings and sounds” and portrays “a deep intimacy” and “a sense of vulnerability.” His work for alto saxophone and string quartet, Cries, Sighs and Dreams, premiered in May 2022 at Carnegie Hall with the Borromeo Quartet. His work for solo piano, Fantasy on Recurring Daydreams, was premiered by Zhu Wang in April 2023. Banks’s works are published by Murphy Music Press.


An advocate for diversity and inclusion in music education and performance, Banks was part of the TEDx NorthwesternU 2017 conference, presenting his dynamic approach to overcoming institutionalized prejudices against women and people of color. In addition, he has written about and given lectures on the history of Black classical composers. In collaboration with Anthony Trionfo and Randall Goosby, the Learning to Listen roundtable was created to discuss the nuances of the Black experience in classical music and beyond. In partnership with the Sphinx Organization, they also created the Illuminate! series, which opened three essential conversations on the subject of music education, artist activism, and the LGBTQIA+ community in classical music.


Banks serves as a visiting faculty member at the Cleveland Institute of Music and holds the Jackie McLean Fellowship at the University of Hartford. He was previously Assistant Professor of Saxophone at both Ithaca College and the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory. His primary saxophone teachers have been Taimur Sullivan, Otis Murphy Jr., and Galvin Crisp. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, as well as a Master of Music degree from the Northwestern University Bienen School of Music.


Banks is an endorsing artist for Conn-Selmer instruments, D’Addario Woodwinds, lefreQue Sound Solutions, and Key Leaves.

About The Brazeal Dennard Chorale
For half a century, Detroit’s own Brazeal Dennard Chorale has been committed to remembering, preserving, and discovering the music of African American composers and artists. Nationally known for its expressive renditions of African American music in the choral tradition, the Brazeal Dennard Chorale is one of the oldest organizations of its kind in America.

In 1972, the Brazeal Dennard Chorale was established, with a mission to promote the music of African American composers and to perpetuate the heritage of the Negro Spiritual. This highly skilled group of singers not only preserves this rich musical heritage, but also performs music from all genres of Choral Music repertoire at the highest level.

The Brazeal Dennard Chorale has been a leader in championing the classical music heritage of African American composers. In an effort to highlight the contributions of African Americans to classical music, and to take the music to an even larger audience, the Classical Roots concert was established. Dr. Brazeal Wayne Dennard, working collaboratively with Paul Freeman, the DSO’s then-Resident Conductor, and several notable community leaders, organized and facilitated the first Classical Roots concert held in 1978 at Detroit’s historic Bethel AME Church. The choir was anchored by the Brazeal Dennard Chorale and included chorus members from Detroit-area Black churches. Dr. Dennard reports, “that was the beginning of the Classical Roots concert that the symphony performs today.” This concert model has now been implemented by orchestras and music organizations across the country.

Under the leadership of Artistic Director Alice McAllister Tillman, the Brazeal Dennard Chorale continues to maintain a value system that fosters bridge-building, innovation, collaboration, community, inclusivity, and excellence. Through performances, commissions of new choral works, recordings, and engaging with communities across America, the Brazeal Dennard Chorale is continuing the tradition of African Americans who sang unaccompanied melodies which told of the pains of slavery, the yearning to be free, and the hope of God’s salvation. Recently, the Chorale participated in a commission consortium through Chorus America. The work, Make Some Noise, Get in Trouble (Good Trouble, Necessary Trouble), composed by Roland M. Carter commemorates the memory of the Honorable John R. Lewis and was premiered by the Brazeal Dennard Chorale in April of 2022.

The Brazeal Dennard Chorale is an award-winning organization that in 2018 received the Brazeal Wayne Dennard Award (presented by Chorus America) in recognition of the Chorale’s commitment to diversity, inclusiveness, and furthering African American choral traditions and other diverse choral music traditions through performance, research, or the creation of new compositions of significance.

About the DSO
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. Led by Music Director Jader Bignamini since 2020, the DSO makes its home at historic Orchestra Hall within the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, offering a performance schedule that features the PVS Classical, PNC Pops, Paradise Jazz, and Young People’s Family Concert series. In addition, the DSO presents the William Davidson Neighborhood Concert Series in metro area venues, as well as 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 live radio broadcast of a concert and continues today with the groundbreaking Live from Orchestra Hall series of free webcasts.

Since its first school concerts a century ago, and particularly since the founding of the Civic Youth Ensembles in 1970, the DSO has been a national leader in bringing the benefits of music education to students, teachers, and families in Detroit and surrounding communities. The DSO remains committed to expanding its participation in the growth and well-being of Detroit through programs like its Detroit Neighborhood Initiative—cultural events co-created with community partners and residents—and Detroit Harmony, a promise to provide an instrument and instruction to any student in the city who wants to learn. With unwavering support from the people of Detroit, the DSO actively pursues a mission to impact lives through the power of unforgettable musical experiences.