This has been an action packed season for me. Not that I'm complaining, but I have been working on exciting personal and board projects for Music Hall-that's right, I am now a board member of the Friends of Music Hall!In the past year, Music Hall has suffered some trials and tribulations as with any arts organization. Reduced capacity with both attendees and orchestra members have forced us all to get creative. We satisfied our appetites with live stream and limited capacity in person performances at Music Hall.
I was feeling under the weather for much of this past week, but finally, I mustered up the strength to attend the Classical Roots 20th Anniversary Concert at Music Hall yesterday for the first time in over a year, and my second Classical Roots performance in twenty years!
Classical Roots was founded in 2001 at a time of civil and racial unrest. John Morris Russell, CSO Associate Conductor at the time and CSO staff members Kathy Jorgensen-Finley to put on the very first Classical Roots Spiritual Heights Concert at Lincoln Height Baptist Church in the neighborhood of Lincoln Heights (There is a cool connect between this community and one of the songs performed in the concert that I will mention later).
Classical Roots is a melting pot of rhythms, incorporating classical, spiritual, gospel, funk, R&B, and soul in each performance.
What sets this tradition apart from other symphony performances that it takes the symphony to various African-American churches throughout Cincinnati for all to worship and enjoy!
Typically, the Classical Roots Community Mass Choir features 150 choir members, but due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, only the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Pianist Michelle Cann, Classical Roots Community Mass Choir members Robert Lomax, Ciara Harper, Noel Walton, Kimberly Stewart, and Tia Toles, and narrator William Henry Caldwell, resident conductor of the Classical Roots Community Mass Choir, performed for the ninety minute presentation, which for me, was special.
The afternoon kicked off of the National Negro Anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing" with the audience. Next, the Symphony Orchestra really got things started with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's Danse negre, Op. 35 No. 4
Next, members of the Nouveau Program took us back to our childhood with "Kumbaya".
One highlight of this performance is Harper's delivery of Mamie Smith's "Crazy Blues" Born just blocks south of Music Hall on Perry Street, Smith, the "Queen of the Blues" was the first Black female artist to do an authentic blues recording with "Crazy Blues" and made her Music Hall debut on April 14, 1921.
Fast forward to the second half of the presentation, John Morris Russell and the Symphony Orchestra kicked it up three notches with "It's Your Thing" by none other than Cincinnati's own the Isley Brother's-that's right, The Isley Brothers grew up here in Cincinnati in the suburb of Lincoln Heights!
The tune that really resounded with me was Duke Ellington's "Caravan". On September 9,1931, Ellington and his orchestra, along with Ivie Anderson, debuted at the Greystone Ballroom at Music Hall. P.S. and BTW, "El Rey de Timbal", Tito Puente would record a version of this tune.
The only non musician represented in Sunday's performance was World Heavyweight Champion, "The Cincinnati Cobra" Ezzard Charles with the Theme from Rocky ("Gonna Fly Now") with members of the Cincinnati Youth Boxing Program front and center. This is so special as this past July marked the 100th anniversary of Charles' birth-learn more about Charles here!
Finally, JMR showed his love for the Godfather of Soul James Brown with I Got You (I Feel Good) in a style only JMR can pull off! Sound familiar? This tune was also featured in American Originals: The Cincinnati Sound, concert series previously presented at Music Hall.
This performance has really made my weekend, and now, I feel more empowered to take on the week! This was the perfect blend of tradition and innovation that can never be topped!