There is a rich tradition of Black composers, conductors, and musicians in classical music, from William Grant Still, Scott Joplin, and Florence Price to Marian Anderson and Jessye Norman.
Dr. Howard Watkins, renowned pianist and Assistant Conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, explores this lineage by curating a recital delving into the rich repertoire of Black American composers, featuring internationally acclaimed soprano Karen Slack and baritone Kenneth Overton. WNYC’s Jami Floyd hosts this illuminating musical performance followed by an insightful panel discussion about the over 100-year tradition of Blacks as creators, conductors, and patrons of classical music.
A community engagement program co-presented by The Greene Space, the Apollo Theater, WQXR, and the American Composers Orchestra in support of The Gathering.
Karen Slack, soprano
“Prayer,” Carlos Simon
Selection from Songs of Separation, William Grant Still
“If I Should Go”
“Far Away Long Ago” from Champion, Terence Blanchard.
“I Want to Die While You Love Me,” Undine Smith Moore
“De Angels Done Bowed Down,” Zenobia Powell Perry
“You Can Tell the World,” arr. Margaret Bonds
Kenneth Overton, baritone
“Weeping Angel,” William Grant Still.
“My Heart to Thy Heart,” Adolphus Hailstork
“Dream Variation” from Three Dream Portraits, Margaret Bonds.
“Dead Fires,” Carlos Simon
“Song to the Dark Virgin,” Florence Price
“Love Response,” H. Leslie Adams
“Stand the Storm,” arr. Timothy Amukele
American pianist Howard Watkins is a frequent associate of some of the world’s leading musicians on the concert stage and as an assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. His appearances throughout the world have included collaborations with Joyce DiDonato, Diana Damrau, Thomas Hampson, Kathleen Battle, Grace Bumbry, Mariusz Kwiecien, Anna Netrebko, and Matthew Polenzani at such venues as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Spivey Hall, Kennedy Center, the United States Supreme Court, Alice Tully Hall, the three stages of Carnegie Hall, the Elbphilharmonie, and the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow.
His expansive current and former faculty affiliations include, but are not limited to, The Juilliard School, the Bard College Conservatory of Music, the Yale School of Music as a Visiting Presidential Fellow, the Tanglewood Music Center, the Aspen Music Festival, and the Mannes School of Music.
A native of Dayton, Ohio, Mr. Watkins completed the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Accompanying and Chamber Music at the University of Michigan. Honored as the 2004 recipient of the Paul C. Boylan award from the University of Michigan for his outstanding contributions to the field of music, he is also the 2019 recipient of the Lift Every Voice Legacy Award from the National Opera Association.
Credit: Photo provided by guest
Kenneth Overton’s ever blossoming career has allowed him to perform with some of the most prestigious opera companies and orchestras in the world, highlights include his 2021 Metropolitan Opera debut as Lawyer Frazier in Porgy and Bess, his 2017 New York Philharmonic debut, and his San Francisco Opera debut as Lawyer Frazier in Porgy and Bess and a return to the company as Sid in La Fanciulla del West.
Kenneth is lauded for blending his opulent baritone with magnetic, varied portrayals that seemingly “emanate from deep within body and soul.” His symphonious baritone voice has sent him around the globe, making him one of the most sought-after opera singers of his generation. Kenneth is a 2020 GRAMMY AWARD WINNER for Best Choral Performance in the title role of Richard Danielpour’s The Passion of Yeshua with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by JoAnn Falletta.
Credit: Photo provided by artist
Hailed for possessing a voice of extraordinary beauty, a seamless legato and great dramatic depth, Karen Slack has appeared with the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera and San Francisco Opera. On film, Ms. Slack portrayed the Opera Diva in Tyler Perry’s movie and soundtrack “For Colored Girls,” and on the concert stage, was a featured soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the world premiere of Hannibal Lokumbe’s Healing Tones with conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
During the 2020-2021 season, Ms. Slack drew on her experience in film to expand her artistic platform through premiere digital performances and began to create and produce bespoke content for the digital concert stage, from performances with Houston Grand Opera, Madison Opera, and Minnesota Opera to a starring role in Driving While Black with urbanarias to launching her digital talk show, #kikikonversations, which garnered critical acclaim from both Opera News and The New York Times. During this period she also co-created and performed in #saytheirnames – Women of the Movement, a film recital and production in partnership with lyricfest, performed in recital for Opera Philadelphia.
Credit: Photo provided by artist