February is Black History Month—and what better way to celebrate than by highlighting a number of Black artists who have made meaningful contributions to the classical music art form and inspired others along the way.
In a series of short videos, which will be shared on the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s social-media channels throughout the month, Barrett Principal Education Conductor & Community Ambassador Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser and Principal Viola Michael Casimir both pay tribute to these artists, but in different ways:
Daniel focuses specifically on “Black composers from history who have made their mark.” These influential figures include Florence Price, a musical genius who wrote more than 300 pieces, including a symphony premièred by one of the “Big Five” orchestras in the US; William Grant Still, a creator of orchestral, ballet, and choral works, and the first American composer (Black or otherwise) to have an opera presented by the New York City Opera; and George Walker, a Pulitzer Prize winner and Doctor of Musical Arts whose music was commissioned by many prestigious American orchestras.
Michael talks about “some of the Black musicians that have impacted [his] life,” and his profiles are more personal in nature. In addition to Joseph Conyers, the current Assistant Principal Double Bass at the Philadelphia Orchestra, Michael names violinist Booker Rowe, his great uncle and one of the first Black musicians in the Philadelphia Orchestra, and his father, his first teacher and ongoing supporter, as his greatest influencers.
Check out our dedicated YouTube playlist for all six tributes and, to paraphrase Michael, “join us in recognizing the contributions of Black artists during Black History Month and all year round.”