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Celebrate and support our classical music artists as we re-define classical

Jun 22, 2022 11:00AM ● By Karen Warrington

(Re-Collective Orchestra, Image Source: Official Facebook page)

My mother was a classical pianist trained in the European tradition and I spent a good part of my childhood listening to and appreciating her playing Bach, Mozart or Chopin compositions.

Growing up I was also exposed to African music and drumming which I also loved and appreciated. Whether it was kora, bata or djembe, for me it was also classical music. So, early on I was a lover of classical music wherever I found it.

Therefore, I was super impressed to view and find out about the all-African American Re-Collective Orchestra that served as the musical backdrop to CNN’s Juneteenth TV production. I don’t know about other viewers but I had never seen an all Black classical symphony orchestra and I was super proud of these master musicians.

The 68-member orchestra was under the direction of Thomas Wilkins who is the principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl. It was founded in 2018 by composer Matt Jones and violinist Stephanie Mathews as an effort to raise the visibility of Black classical musicians and champion the work of Black composers.

After becoming  aware that the musicians hired for the blockbuster Black Panther film were not racially inclusive the orchestra “re-imagined” the film’s title track, All the Stars. The orchestra then followed up with a powerful composition, We Are Here, that obviously got the attention of film producers. As a result, in 2019 the orchestra performed on the sound track of the remake of the Lion King film.

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Further investigation of the world of classical music has revealed that while there are only a few Black classical music conductors such as Mr. Wilkins there has only been one African American conductor selected as music director of a major orchestra in U.S. history. That person was the late James DePreist, a renowned conductor who was the music director of the Oregon Symphony. He was born in Philadelphia and is also the nephew of famed opera singer Marian Anderson.

Speaking of Philadelphia let’s give a standing ovation to classical violinist Booker Rowe who retired two years ago from the Philadelphia Orchestra after 50 years with little recognition by the orchestra’s PR folk.

Being introduced to the Re-Collective Orchestra reminds me that we should proudly celebrate and support all our Diasporan classical music artists whether they are performing in an American concert hall, on BET, a jazz club in Harlem or an African drum festival in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria.


 Karen Warrington has had a decades long career as a broadcast journalist, communications professional, performing artist, and documentary filmmaker. She has traveled extensively throughout Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia. She is committed to being a voice for the African Diaspora. 

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