African American Music Conference 2020

Black and white photo of Willis Patterson

September 18-20, 2020

Professor Emeritus Willis Patterson (MM ’59, BM ’58 voice) is the featured guest for the 2020 African American Music Conference. A joint celebration of his 90th birthday and his legendary career, the conference will feature events including a mixture of pre-recorded and live conversations featuring alums of SMTD, the 1963 cast of the NBC-TV production of Menotti’s opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, and will explore his teaching, artistry, and impact on the fields of jazz and African American concert repertoire.

Willis C. Patterson, professor emeritus of voice and former associate dean, joined the faculty in 1968, as the first African American member of the SMTD faculty, after having taught at Southern University (Louisiana) and Virginia State College. Dr. Patterson concertized extensively in the U.S. and Europe and appeared as bass soloist with major American orchestras. He was a Fulbright Fellow and a winner of the Marian Anderson Award for young singers. He served as president of the National Association of Negro Musicians and as executive secretary of the National Black Music Caucus.  Learn more about Dr. Patterson, his life, and his career.

Oral History: A Conversation with Willis Patterson (2013)
African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County

Piano Concerto in One Movement by Florence B. Price (2019)
Karen Walwyn (DMA ’94 piano), piano
Duke Symphony Orchestra, Harry Davidson, conductor

Ray Wade (alum ’91) as Otello

Sonata for Cello and Piano by David Baker
Anthony Elliott, cello
Toni-Marie Montgomery (DMA ’84, MM ’81 piano), piano

Anthony Elliott, cello, and Toni-Marie Montgomery, piano, in concert.

Movement 1 – Fast

Movement 2 – Slow

Movement 3 – Fast


Alumni Concert and Conversation with Willis Patterson (Sept. 13, 2019)

Song of the Seasons: Spring and Autumn by Valerie Capers
Louise Toppin (DMA ’90 voice), soprano
Timothy Holley (DMA ’96, MM ’84 cello), cello
Josh Marzan (DMA ’17 piano), piano

The Pillar by Adolphus Hailstork
Louise Toppin, soprano
Lydia Cleaver (MM ’91 harp, BM ’91 music education), harp

The Sage by Adolphus Hailstork
Laurence Albert (alum ’97), bass-baritone
Liz Ames, piano

John Henry’s Big by Adolphus Hailstork
David Jackson (MM ’92, BM ’91 trombone), trombone
Amy Cheng, piano

Draw the Sacred Circle: Theme and Variations for Solo Cello by Adolphus Hailstork
Timothy Holley, cello

Songbirds by Kerwin Young and Filter by Daniel Bernard Roumain
Tami Hughes (DMA ’03, MM ’00 violin), violin
Josh Marzan, piano

Will there really be a morning? by Ricky Ian Gordon and Nightsong by Leslie Adams
Tiffany Jackson (BM ’93 voice), soprano
Josh Marzan, piano

Five Folksongs in Counterpoint by Florence Price
Gwen Laster (MM ’82, BM’79 violin), violin
Monica McCormick Jackson (MM’89 violin), violin
John Madison (MM ’84, BM ’83 viola), viola
Timothy Holley, cello

2:00-3:00PM EST
Afternoon Classics on WGTE with Brad Cresswell – featuring the jazz and classical performances of Willis Patterson and interviews with Willis Patterson and Louise Toppin

3:30-4:30PM EST
Delivering a more dynamic, diverse curriculum for the 21st century music student
Panel discussion about the importance of and strategies to contemporize the musical canon.
Ronald Crutcher, President, University of Richmond
Toni-Marie Montgomery, (DMA ’84, MM ’81 piano performance) Dean, Northwestern University
Marvin Curtis, former Dean, Indiana University-South Bend
Register to attend all events

5:30-7:00PM EST
Introducing the Willis Patterson Collection at the Bentley Historical Library
Conversation with Dr. Willis Patterson,
Terrence McDonald, Professor of History and Director of the Bentley,
with greetings from President Mark Schlissel, Vice Provost Robert Sellers, and SMTD Dean Dave Gier (BM ’83 trombone)
host for the conference/celebration, Louise Toppin
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The 1977 Anthology of Art Songs by Black American Composers. This historic anthology is inspiring the study of African American art song today as much as it did when it was created. You will hear all of the selections in the anthology, some of them historic performances by George Shirley, Hilda Harris, and others, while others appear on recordings and in live performance as recently as 2020.

Recording of a conversation with Willis Patterson from the 2019 African American music symposium hosted by Louise Toppin at the University of Michigan.
Introduction by Lester Monts, remarks by Willis Patterson
Conversation with Eugene Rogers (DMA ’08 MM’01 conducting) and Willis Patterson

12:00-1:30 PM EST
Sounding New: Black Art Song in the Twenty-First Century
In 1916, concert artist, arranger, music editor, and composer, Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949), published Jubilee Songs of the United States. Arranged for piano and voice, the songs represented a landmark as it established the solo Black art song as a distinct genre. Willis Patterson’s landmark collection, Anthology of Art Songs by Black American Composers was published in 1977. Its influence on the post-Civil Rights era pedagogy and performance of Black concert music has been inestimable. By building on Burleigh’s legacy, Patterson’s anthology has been central to establishing Black art songs as an important tradition of practice in American concert life on par with German Lieder and French Chanson.

This session explores how contemporary artists continue to build on this dynamic legacy through musical works that extend the techniques, themes, and concerns of the Black art song into the twenty-first century.

Introduction: Stephen Michael Newby (DMA ’94 composition), Seattle Pacific University
Moderator: Uzee Brown (DMA ’80, MM ’75 voice), Morehouse College
Panelists: Britney Boykin, Spelman College; Adolphus Hailstork, Old Dominion University; Dave Ragland, and Darryl Taylor (DMA ’95, MM ’91 voice), University of California – Irvine.
Register to attend all streamed events

A session from the 1985 symposium of African American music,  curated by Willis Patterson.
Introduction: Guthrie Ramsey, Jr. (PhD ’94, MA ’91 musicology)
“Perspectives on Black Music History Part 1”
“Perspectives on Black Music History Part 2”
Panel: Eileen Southern (Moderator), Prof, of Music and of Afro-American Studies, Harvard University
Samuel Floyd, Prof, of Music and Director, Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College, Chicago, Illinois
Doris McGinty, Chairman, Music Dept., Howard University
Mildred Denby Green, Prof, of Music, LeMoyne-Owen College, Tennessee
Benjamin Bailey, Chairman, Music Department, Tougaloo College, Tougaloo, Mississippi
Roland Braithwaite, Talledaga College, Alabama

Recordings of all sessions from the 1985 Black American Music Symposium
View the 1985 Black American Music Symposium program (PDF)

2:00-3:30 PM EST
New Frontiers in Black Music Studies
Since the first African American Symposium of 1985, Black music research has surged with no sign of waning. What at one time represented a niche interest in the academy is now recognized as one of the most energized, rigorous, and popular fields of inquiry in the millennium. The studies on this panel showcase new and on-going scholarship on Black musicians who have made an indelible mark on the American musical landscape from the nineteenth century to the present.

Introduction: Christi-Anne Castro, Chair, Musicology Department, University of Michigan
Moderator: Kyra Gaunt (PhD ’97 ethnomusicology), University of Albany
Panel: Tammy Kernodle, Miami University of Ohio
Alisha L. Jones, Indiana University
Christopher Brooks (MM ’80 voice), Virginia Commonwealth University
Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr. (PhD ’94 MA ’91 musicology), University of Pennsylvania
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Archive broadcasts of “The Art Music of Black Americans” on WUOM, hosted by Willis Patterson
“Music Inspired by the Blues”
“Works by Male Composers”

4:00- 5:00PM EST
The cast of the NBC 1963 broadcast of Amahl and the Night Visitors, Richard Cross, and Kurt Yaghjian reunite for a conversation with Willis Patterson about this historic production. Moderated by Arthur White, Michigan Opera Theater’s Director of External Affairs.

Introduction: Scott Piper (DMA ’12, MM ’95 voice), Chair, Voice Department, University of Michigan
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WATCH | Performance of the 1963 Amahl and the Night Visitors broadcast

7:00PM EST
Tales from the Briar Patch by Nkeiru Okoye and Carman Moore (librettist)
On February 27, 2020 SMTD presented a public workshop reading of “Bre’r Rabbit and the Tar Baby,” the first of three stories in Nkeiru Okoye and Carman Moore’s Tales from the Briar Patch, a new opera in development that is both family-friendly and fun. In this updated reboot of the traditional Bre’r Rabbit stories, Sister Sparrow, Sister Robin, and Madame Partridge retell the antics of Bre’r Rabbit and his nemesis Bre’r Fox. This public reading was the culmination of a workshop with SMTD singers and the composer. The FaceBook watch party will include commentary by the composer and cast members.
Watch Tales from the Briar Patch on FaceBook (you do not need a FaceBook account to view this watch party)

2:00-3:30 PM EST
Black Concert Life Matters
The recent Black Lives Matter protests build on the historical momentum of earlier organized dissents such as the 1940s “Double V” campaign, the push for Civil Rights in the 1960s and, of course, the Black Power movement of the 1970s. Music has always accompanied these calls for equality in society.  What is often missing in public discourse, however, is the role of Black art music in these demands for justice. This panel takes on this question by exploring Willis Patterson’s model of forward thinking, on-the-ground musical activism as a paradigm for the future.  Radio broadcast of Willis Patterson the performer featuring his pre-recorded jazz and classical performances.

Introduction: Charles Lwanga, University of Michigan
Chair: Dwight Andrews (MM ’74 wind instruments BM ’73 music education), Emory University
Panelists: Bill Banfield (DMA ’92 composition), Berklee College of Music (Emeritus) Anthony Green and Ashleigh Gordon, Castle of Our Skins, and Marquese Carter, Murray State University.
Register to attend all streamed events

4:00-5:30PM EST
Happy Birthday Willis Patterson! Closing Greetings and Presentations
Performances and greetings by friends, students, and colleagues.
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Willis Patterson and student
at Interlochen Arts Camp (undated).
Willis Patterson and Our Own Thing Chorus
Founded by Willis Patterson in 1968, the Instructional Program provides free instruction in the arts, both vocal and instrumental, rental of musical instruments, and scholarships to area youngsters who would otherwise be unable to afford the opportunity to study music.
Willis Patterson in performance
The Merry Wives of Windsor (1962)
Amahl and the Night Visitors (NBC, 1963)
Willis Patterson, John McCollum and Richard Cross in Amahl and the Night Visitors, NBC Opera, 1963. Collection of African Americans in the Performing Arts, Detroit Public Library.
Willis Patterson teaching at Interlochen Arts Camp (undated).