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EMANCIPATION 150: Pianist Roy Eaton on Black Audiences and Classical Music

Wednesday September 28 2022 • 12:07am - 12:07am ET

Roy Eaton talks with Helga Davis and Terrance McKnight

Roy Eaton was just six years old when he began playing the piano. It was the 1930s, and he was a boy growing up on Edgecombe Avenue in Sugar Hill, New York, a center for African-American art and culture during the Harlem Renaissance.

“It was a wonderful neighborhood,” he said. “It was segregated, yes. But it was a segregation that allowed seeds to be planted and blossoms to occur that could not have occurred in any other environment. My next door neighbor was [jazz saxophonist] Sonny Rollins. Down the block was [artist] Faith Ringgold.”

The classical pianist and composer was among the performers who joined us for a concert and conversation presented by WQXR about the struggles and triumphs of African-Americans in classical music, part of our EMANCIPATION 150 series. Hosts Helga Davis and Terrance McKnight asked Eaton why he thought black audiences tended to be small for classical music. Hear his answer in the video below.

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