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The Fisk Jubilee Singers Celebrate 150 Years

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In 1871, Verdi’s groundbreaking opera Aida had its world premiere in Cairo. October 6th of that same year, a group of formerly enslaved African Americans set out on their first fundraising tour to save the Free Fisk Colored School in Nashville, which had been established by the American Missionary Association in the aftermath of the Civil War. Within three years, this group primarily made up of teenagers would find themselves singing in the royal courts of Europe, eventually singing before Queen Victoria who reportedly stated, “These young people sing so beautifully they must be from the Music City of the United States.” This group of singers became internationally known as the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The Fisk Jubilee Singers Queen Victoria commissioned a larger-than-life-sized painting of the group that hangs in Jubilee Hall today. Built from the proceeds from those first concert tours, Jubilee Hall was the first permanent structure built in the United States specifically for the purpo

Don Shirley, "Green Book," and Me

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I finally got the chance to sit down and watch the Oscar-winning film Green Book , on the life of African American concert pianist Don Shirley . As I had written in an earlier blog ( "Ebony and Ivory: A Dissonant Truth" ), I had visited with Dr. Shirley in his apartment above Carnegie Hall when my parents were in New York with the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The film gave a very accurate depiction of his home and the extravagant, ostentatious décor. The Real Don Shirley in his home Don Shirley was praised early in his life as a genius, a wunderkind whose forte was the traditional classical repertoire. Composer Igor Stravinsky said of him: "His virtuosity is worthy of Gods." But his record label forced him to play jazz, and sent him on tour with a jazz trio. In an interview, Shirley said that his record label wanted him to appear in overalls with a red bandana around his neck on the album cover. He refused. In my own book I have written about facing racism as an African Am

Nina Kennedy Invited to Present Lecture/Book Signing at Juilliard

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As you may have read last month (in my blog  "Juilliard Covers Its Ass" ), I was very upset to learn of an auditory exercise conducted by the Juilliard Drama Division depicting scenes from slavery. Several students complained about this exercise, and posted some of the actual audio on Facebook and Instagram. The person who presented this workshop claimed that the intent of the exercise was to explore the origins of Negro Spirituals. The Fisk Jubilee Singers Anyone who knows me knows that my father directed the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who have been called the originators of the Negro Spiritual. In my  Lammy-nominated memoir ,  Practicing for Love , I wrote extensively about the history of the Jubilee Singers, and how their music had been utilized by Czech composer Antonín Dvořák in his Symphony from the New World. When I wrote the first blog, Juilliard had expressed no interest whatsoever in my book. Well, about a week after I sent an email of complaint to the Director of Alumni

Juilliard Covers Its Ass

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On April 23rd, I received an email from the Juilliard Alumni Association director. In it was an email from the president of the school addressing an issue concerning a workshop conducted by the Drama Division. Evidently, the Drama Division invited a guest lecturer who conducted a workshop on the African American experience during slavery. In the words of President Woetzel to students, faculty, and staff:       "I write to you to address a September 2020 Drama Division workshop that has impacted our school community. While I am s haring a message below that was sent to the drama community by Evan Yionoulis, dean and director of the Drama Division, I believe it is important for our school community to hear directly from me.      To live our values requires an acknowledgment of mistakes we have made. To that end, I want to state unequivocally that this workshop was ill-conceived and should not have occurred in the manner that it did. I extend a heartfelt apology to the individuals wh

Frances Elizabeth Taylor: Dancer, Actress, Muse

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Frances Taylor at the Miles Davis exhibit Frances Taylor While watching the PBS documentary on the life of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis ( Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool ), I was very interested in the interview with dancer Frances Taylor, to whom Davis was married from 1959 to 1968. After doing some research, I learned that Frances Taylor was the first African-American ballerina to perform with the Paris Opera Ballet. She was a member of the Katherine Dunham Company, had roles in the Broadway musicals Mr. Wonderful , Shinbone Alley , and was an original cast member of West Side Story . Taylor also appeared in the Off-Broadway productions of Carmen Jones and Porgy and Bess .  While working on Broadway, she was credited as Elizabeth Taylor because there was already an actress named Frances Taylor, so she used her middle name. Frances Taylor and Leonard Bernstein Frances Taylor was a  member of the original cast of  West Side Story , working alongside Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, and

Matthew Kennedy 100th Birthday Celebration March 10th

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Join us as we pay homage to  American classical pianist, professor, choral director, composer, and arranger of Negro Spirituals Matthew Kennedy , who was born March 10, 1921 in Americus, Georgia. We will be posting links to his recordings, articles, and film clips as part of his 100th birthday celebration. As a young boy, Matthew Kennedy sat in the segregated audience for a live concert given by famed Russian pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. He decided to become a pianist himself after that concert. Soon afterwards, he and his mother traveled to New York City at apply for study at the Juilliard School, for which he won a scholarship as a result of imitating Rachmaninoff's playing style. After graduating from the Juilliard Preparatory Division, he entered Fisk University as a freshman and served as piano accompanist for the Fisk Jubilee Singers under then-director Mrs. James A. Myers. He traveled the world with the group performing several solo pieces on their programs, thu

Susan Seltzer: Patroness, Partner, Spirit

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  Susan Seltzer in her office at Met Life On this day in 1990 at 2:13 am., Susan Seltzer passed away. She was thirty-three years old. Two and-a-half years earlier, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. After six weeks of radiation therapy, and then six months of chemo therapy, she lost her battle with cancer, and took her last breath while holding my hand.     Susan Seltzer was born in Yonkers, New York to Evelyn and Herman Seltzer. The family soon moved to New City, New York, where she went to high school. Susan attended Union College in upstate New York, and then transferred her credits at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where her classes were conducted in Hebrew, in which she was fluent. Her father was a V.P. at Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, and enabled her to have her first job as a Systems Programmer. Herman Seltzer was quite successful in his own right as an originator of the first IBM Mainframe computer, which is on display at the Smithsonian Institution. Susan

Raphael Warnock Quotes Howard Thurman

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Senator Raphael Warnock At the end of Inauguration Day, I heard the new Georgia Senator the Reverend Raphael Warnock being interviewed by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. At one point in the interview, Rachel pointed out how some Republicans had tried to hold Warnock's religion against him. As part of his response, he quoted the words of American philosopher and theologian  Howard Thurman: " By some amazing but vastly creative spiritual insight the slave undertook the redemption of a religion that the master had profaned in his midst."   The words went by so fast that I had to pause and rewind, and listen to it several times.  While contemplating these words, I thought of how slave owners had used biblical text to encourage passivity and obedience in their slaves. The church was the only legal gathering place for slaves, precisely  for that purpose. So how were formerly enslaved people able to claim this religion after emancipation? I do have a rather unique perspective as I was f

The Arts Don't Matter

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Madame Butterfly It is a very frustrating time to be an artist right now. To say nothing of the fact that we can't perform before a live audience, for those of us who have thrown our energies into writing, it seems that if we are not interested in politics or Donald Trump, our voices don't matter. I have written extensively on racism in the arts, and sexism as well. This year my words have appeared in San Francisco Classical Voice , The Tennessee Tribune , GO Magazine , and most recently in MusicWeb International  (based in the U.K.). They were even heard in the podcast Jazz Ready  hosted by Magdalena Gomez. But the major outlets (i.e., The New York Times , The New Yorker , New York Magazine , etc.) are only interested in publishing articles on politics and Trump. The Arts don't matter. This was one of the many reason why I spent so much time in Europe. There, the Arts always matter, regardless of what else is going on in the world. They have centuries of history throughout

In Celebration of Beethoven's 250th Birthday

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Ludwig von Beethoven In honor of Ludwig von Beethoven's 250th birthday next month (December 17th), I am putting to rest the mystery around the meaning of the lyrics of the chorus in his famous Ninth Symphony, which Anglophiles have called the "Ode to Joy." "Freude," the subject of the poem by Friedrich Schiller - literally translated as "Joy" - is really a Goddess. Joy is her name, and Elysium in mythology is the dwelling place of the gods, or can be loosely translated as "Paradise." I am especially frustrated when I hear English translations of Schiller's poem making references to "God the Father," etc. This poem has nothing to do with God. In fact, it can be loosely translated as a hymn in praise of "Joy" within the context of a pagan orgy. The poem reads as follows:           "An die Freude"                                                       "Ode to Joy"   Freude,  schöner Götterfunken,       

Fisk Jubilee Singers and Quartet, Loudin Jubilee Singers, Leota Henson, Florence Mills Featured on Next Episode of "The Noshing with Nina Show"

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Bill Egan , author of the new book African American Entertainers in Australia and New Zealand: A History, 1788-1941 is Nina Kennedy's guest on the November episode of The Noshing with Nina Show . The Fisk Jubilee Singers under director Frederick Loudin - who had sung with the original Fisk Jubilee Singers of 1872 - sailed to Australia in 1888, and remained in the "Australian Colonies" for 3 and a half years. Bill Egan devoted several pages in his book to the Jubilee Singers, and quoted some of the observations written by piano accompanist Leota Henson. The first African American woman to study piano at the Leipzig Conservatory of Music - which was founded by composer Felix Mendelssohn in 1843 - Leota had typed seven pages that she titled "A Few Notes on the Life of Leota Henson." Host Nina Kennedy found those seven pages in a box of her grandmother's papers. Her grandmother, Nina Hortense Clinton, had sung with a later group of Jubilee Singers (1900-1903),

"Familiar Favorites" by Matthew Kennedy

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: info@infemnity.com In anticipation of Matthew Kennedy's 100th birthday celebration, INFEMNITY Productions is happy to promote the popular CD which he titled Familiar Favorites . The world will be celebrating the 250th birthday of Ludwig von Beethoven on December 17th, and Matthew Kennedy's performance of the second movement (Adagio cantabile) of Beethoven's "Pathétique" Sonata is one of the selections on the CD. Enjoy this opening clip of the documentary film Matthew Kennedy: One Man's Journey , in which he performs the Beethoven, among other numbers on the CD. Matthew Kennedy was born on March 10, 1921.  The star of his own radio show at age eleven, Matthew played the organ to accompany silent films at the segregated cinema in his home town Americus, Georgia, where he was given the stage name “Sunshine,” and was dressed in a bellhop uniform. After graduating from Fisk University and Juilliard, he was the director of the world-re

"American Heritage" by Pianist Jeni Slotchiver Dropped October 9th

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  Following the success of the Busoni The Visionary series, American pianist Jeni Slotchiver has released a new album this month. With Southern roots of her own, Ms. Slotchiver’s debut ZOHO CD release American Heritage presents compositions that honor the vast African-American musical tradition as well as Union army hymns from the Civil War. There are contemporary arrangements and harmonizations of sea shanties, songs of enslaved people, and secular dances, plus arrangements of spirituals. Several compositions recall the strong, Southern voices of gospel and blues. Of the eight composers represented, six are of African descent, two of whom are women. Visit Jeni Slotchiver's website at  www.jenislotchiver.com . Subscribe to her YouTube channel  here . About Jeni Slotchiver ... " Critics Choice: Appropriate for Millennial Reflections A fascinating program of piano works impressively played by the pianist Jeni Slotchiver…Filled with incandescent piano writing and music of stunn

Happy U.K. Black History Month

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Our dear friend chanteuse Kimberly Nichole just recently informed us in one of her Facebook Live chats that the month of October is Black History Month in the U.K. Granted, the U.K. has a large Nigerian population, and slavery there was abolished thirty years before it was abolished here. Kimberly, who is living in London, pointed out that the Brits gave to blacks one of the longest months (with 31 days), and one with pleasant autumn weather. Kimberly Nichole Watching all of the shenanigans  going on in American politics, I'm just waiting for a savior to drop down from the sky and save African Americans. Trump and the Republicans are pushing through this right-wing conservative Supreme Court judge. How are they able to do this? Well, because of the gerrymandering perpetrated by the Republicans, they have manipulated congressional districts so that Democrats (i.e., blacks) will never be in the majority.  How is this legal? How are they able to get away with this? Well, how were they