Color of Music Graces Sacramento Festival spotlights classic black artists

By Angelica Obioha | OBSERVER Editor-in-chief

The world’s largest festival of black classical musicians made its first appearance on the West Coast, as Color of Music debuted in Sacramento, November 10-13.

The four-night event consisted of vocal and orchestral performances by musicians from around the world presented in three venues: the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, the Guild Theater in Oak Park and the Mondavi Center’s Vanderhoef Theater in UC Davis.

In preparation for two years, the festival was originally scheduled to take place in Sacramento in 2020, but has been postponed due to COVID-19 closures.

Hailing from Charleston, South Carolina, the Color of Music Festival brings together classically trained black musicians to present and perform the works of composers of African descent, highlighting their impact and historical significance on American and global culture. Since its inception in 2013, it has taken place in several cities including Houston, Atlanta, Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Nashville and Richmond, Virginia.

Speaking to The OBSERVER, festival founder and artistic director Lee Pringle said he is focused on enhancing and broadening appreciation for the contributions of classically trained black musicians to the genre.

“When these musical institutions were created, we were intentionally not included. I wanted to provide a platform for artists who wouldn’t have one otherwise, ”said Pringle.

Featuring a diverse repertoire of baroque, classical and 20th-century music, Sacramento festival attendees attended a virtuoso all-female chamber orchestra with director / soloist Anyango Yarbo-Davenport, a chamber music spotlight with the Paris-based Grimbert-Barré Trio, a presentation by biographer Christopher Brooks honoring the career of acclaimed opera singer and California native Shirley Verrett, and morning piano recitals with vocal performances by sopranos Kimwana Doner and Laquita Mitchell, among others.

After a record turnout, Pringle said he has a great admiration for the black community in Sacramento.

“We’ve sold three shows and we’ve never done that in a city before. It is therefore a testimony to the fact that [Sacramento] and its black community understands that classical music is truly one of the last fountains of water for us as a people. “

And the opportunity to host a number of these performances at the Guild Theater is what Pringle described as “the icing on the cake”.

“Oak Park has become one of the rising and rising black enclaves. And although the community around the Guild Theater is becoming immensely gentrified, there is still so much history there. Just knowing that for decades it was recognized as one of the first suburbs in the growing region that the black community permeated, it meant a lot to us to showcase there, ”he said. declared.

Sacramento City Councilor Rick Jennings II, along with former City Councilors Larry Carr and Allen Warren, helped bring the festival to the Sacramento area. According to Pringle, the three black council members at the time wanted this to be part of the city’s unique cultural fabric.

“Sacramento loves the arts. We’ve proven it time and time again, ”Jennings said. “I thank Sacramento for being who they are and for showing us that we can bring art to the city and that we can support it.”

According to a League of American Orchestras study, less than 2% of professional classical musicians in American orchestras are black. The Color of Music ensemble was for many a one-of-a-kind experience, an invisible spectacle that Jennings says will spark a passion for generations to come.

“It’s something I’ve never seen before, and I’m 68 years old. I have never seen an entirely black orchestra. And in my lifetime, being able to see it and witness how it happened… it will leave a lasting impression on me for many, many years to come.

“It is my goal that one day the children who have come to the different sites will play for us because of what they have seen here. This is the vision I have for Sacramento, ”he continued.

Sonya Bradley, Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Visit Sacramento, echoed Jennings’ sentiments, saying the uniqueness of the festival struck a chord and the feedback they received have been largely positive.

“It was so uplifting. Music is good for everyone, no matter what your race, but I think there’s just that special connection when you can see people like you on stage, ”Bradley said.

In recognition of what he called California’s role as a point guard to emulate, Pringle hopes their presence in Sacramento will in turn set the tone for the distance.

“California has the mantra of ‘the way California is, so is the rest of the country’,” he said. “And I hope that inspires other parts of the country to embrace the world’s greatest classic black organization.” There is no other entity that looks like the color of music.

Color of Music is already scheduled to return to Sacramento. Mayor Darrell Steinberg has pledged to bring the festival back next fall, and Pringle expects official dates to be announced soon.

“And we know it’s going to be even bigger next year,” Pringle said.


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