CLASSICAL QUEENS: Black Women in the Classical Arts

By Erica Watson

@ericafayewatson

Chicago is arguably one of the most beautiful and culturally diverse cities in the world. Although it is celebrated for everything from its architecture to cuisine, the one thing that truly gives Chicago its heartbeat is the music. Whether it be the Blues, Jazz, House Music or Gospel many of these art forms were created and/or perfected in The Windy City. Yes! Chicago has a rich musical culture and the heart and soul comes from Black Chicago. In 2019 there is a new renaissance of black female performers that are making their mark in a non-traditional way–Classical Music. Meet the new class of Vocalists and Musicians that are living proof that #blackgirlmagic is very real!

Zoie Imani Reams

Mezzo-Soprano

Lyric Opera of Chicago La Traviata

February 16- March 22, 2019

www.lyricopera.org  | @zoieimani

How did you get your start as an opera singer and what made you fall in love with classical music?

I’ve always listened to classical music! I started in ballet at age 3 and then moved to viola and piano as a kid and also joined Chicago’s Choir.

I was fascinated with opera and classical music but because I stopped dancing and playing viola I began to focus solely on singing.

What is your favorite song to perform and why?

I think my favorite part is once things start really coming together. After the first few weeks of rehearsals and you’ve gotten through the staging, it’s like you understand more about the character your playing once its on its feet and then getting it to stage and things like lighting and set give you a truly different world to play in. It’s really cool.

How do audiences respond to you? Are they surprised that you are a black woman who performs classical music?

I think they are less surprised than they would have been in earlier days of opera, but there are still a few people that may not yet fully understand that classical music is truly for everyone.

It started out as the music of the people and has risen a very long way to being observed as the high art that it is seen as today.

What words of advice do you have any other young performer who may want a career in the classical arts?

I think the absolute most important thing is to learn the craft and learn to love the process of learning it. The best and most difficult thing about this career is that you will always be learning and can always make different approaches and decisions. There isn’t really a defined finish line which allows you to grow and expand as far as you want to.

Ayanna Williams

CEO & Founder, The Yanna Cello Foundation, Professional Cellistwww.YannaCello.com

IG @YannaCello

How did you get your start as a cellist and what made you fall in love with classical music?

My first instrument was actually the piano, but I fell in love with the cello in

my school’s music program in the 5th grade where we were introduced to a wide range of string and wind instruments. At first, I chose the double bass but was told it wasn’t for girls(sexist!). I went for the next best thing, the cello, and never looked back.

What is your favorite piece to play and why?

I honestly don’t have a favorite piece to play. It usually depends on the audience. One of my favorite parts about performing is the audiences’ reaction to my playing. So my favorite piece varies from performance to performance and from audience to audience!

How do audiences respond to you? Are they surprised that you are a black woman who plays classical music?

Audiences are ALWAYS surprised that I’m not only a Black female cellist but the way I carry myself too. When I perform, I look as if I’m about to play extremely classical music and then boom! Your ears hear a shock of classical, hip hop, trap, and R&B fused together. Who knew trap could be so classy?

What words of advice do you have any other young performers who may want a career in the classical arts?

My advice to any musician or creative is that it is never too late to start, quit, and restart. It is never too late to learn, quit, and relearn. No matter how old you get, how young you are, how discouraged you become, the type of adversity you may face, it is never too late. Our talents are not for us, they are to share with others. So do just that.

Windy Indie

Classical Pianist

www. windyviolinstudios.com /covers

IG @Windy_Indy

How did you get your start as a violinist and what made you fall in love with classical music?

My start as a violinist started in my 6th-grade music class at my middle school on the west side of Chicago. I would practice almost every night to impress my peers and music teacher. Since the very first moment I noticed the look of bewilderment my violin playing evoked from the people around me, I never stopped playing my violin.

What is your favorite piece to play and why?

I love to play a classical cover of a popular Hip-Hop song called ‘Fade’ by Kanye West. It’s one of the first songs I allowed my creativity to fully happen without feeling the need to play according to the book. It’s now a crowd favorite that my supporters enjoy listening to, including my proudest supporter, my mom.

How do audiences respond to you? Are they surprised that you are a black woman who plays classical music?

I’ve had many different reactions ranging from tears of inspiration and sometimes disbelief from onlookers. The audiences I perform for is usually looking to connect with me after the show which is one of my favorite parts of being an artist.

What words of advice do you have any other young performer who may want a career in the classical arts?

I would suggest attending concerts of local artists who make an effort to performing in unorthodox places to bring the elements of classical work to the main world. It’s important to recognize an artist who welcomes uncharted territories to their resume. Examples of this, who’s artistry have also encouraged me are Regina Carter, Esperanza Spalding and a fellow popular millennial classical musician of today, Ezinma Ramsay.

Jasmyne Flowers |  Ceo & Founder of Genesis Music & Arts

Classical Pianist

www.genesismusicandarts.com  |  IG @genesismusicandarts

How did you get your start as a pianist and what made you fall in love with classical music?

I began piano through a bridge program offered at my elementary school (Beasley), through Merit School of Music.
I started off in group piano classes and excelled immediately. My instructor wrote the board of education and got approved for my last academic class to be a private lesson. I fell in love with the music as soon as I was introduced to it, it just made sense and felt right. I didn’t choose classical music, it chose me.

What is your favorite piece to play and why?

My favorite piece to play currently is Alchemy Op. 1, No.1. It’sone of my pieces that I wrote at a time in my life when I began finding my higher self. The melodies and sounds in this piece allow me to hear colors and tell a very clear finding of self through sound.

How do audiences respond to you? Are they surprised that you are a black woman who plays classical music?

Audiences are always in “awe” and so many jaws are dropped! I overstand the rarity of seeing an African American classically trained pianist perform, but they’re not only blown away visually. Their reaction is so jaw-dropping due to the colorful sounds and how the music makes them feel. I receive unconditional love in return of giving love through music.

What words of advice do you have any other young performer who may want a career in the classical arts?

The best advice I can give to young aspiring performers is to follow the beat of their own drum. If it makes you happy and no one else understands why don’t let that keep you from it. If it makes you a little scared, then you really have to do it!

Takesha Meshe’

Kizart, Opera Singer

www.takeshaMesheKizart.com IG @tmkizart

How did you get your start as an opera singer and what made you fall in love with classical music?

As a student at the illustrious Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, one of my most influential instructors was Mrs. Flora Robinson. She identified the full spectrum of what my voice might be able to accomplish. As far as falling in love with classical music? I fell in love with what my voice could accomplish through it. My voice led the way.

What is your favorite piece to perform and why?

The response to this is always… the piece that I am currently working on!

I happen to be in the midst of Wedding Planning. So, I am personally curating, arranging, and/or composing all of the music for the Ceremony and Reception. This currently includes repertoire for 19th Century Pipe Organ, Harp, Jazz Piano, African Drums, and Multi-Genre Vocalists.

How do audiences respond to you? Are they surprised that you are a black woman who sings classical music?

Audiences usually know they are coming to see me before I appear onstage. Though I did receive the most beautiful message following a performance of the title role of Tosca by Giacomo Puccini. It speaks to this very reaction. The greatest mission for me as a professional vocalist and musician is to be seen by those who think my very existence is impossible. I want children who identify with me to know that they can blaze their own trails and to fulfill their own dreams. We must see it, the tangible and intangible, to believe it.

What words of advice do you have for other young performers who may want a career in the classical arts?

Hone Your Craft

Constantly study everything there is to know to make you the most complete communicator and performer. Be prepared. Be present. Most importantly, be your best self.

Know Your Business

You are an Artist Entrepreneur. This is a business and you are the boss. Run it well.

Optimize Your Opportunities

Opportunity begets opportunity. Capitalize on each connection and constantly present yourself. Even an audition is a performance. If ever you are blessed with a spotlight, bask in its rays and shine brightly!

 

2019-03-08T10:34:46-05:00

About the Author:

Bronzeville Life is a bi-monthly publication featuring lifestyle, politics, community, business, arts, and culture. The Chicago based paper is produced by the Robert Sengstacke Abbott Foundation.

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