The Detroit Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 38th annual Classical Roots Concert and 16th annual Classical Roots Celebration on Saturday, March 5. Performing for the night were African-American legends: soprano Laquita Mitchell and Branford Marsalis, a National Endowment for the Arts jazz master and saxophonist.
According to the DSO website, the Classical Roots Celebration aims toward celebrating African-American contributions to classical music that are often missing from the spotlight. The celebration is the DSO’s way of reaching out to youth to show them the opportunities to discover their true potential.
The DSO’s celebration honored American Grammy award-winning opera singer Jessye Norman and the late Dr. Silas Norman, Jr. who served as Wayne State University’s medical school associate dean of admissions, diversity and inclusion in 2010 and was a longtime WSU faculty member.
Dr. Silas Prescod Norman, the son of Norman Jr., who accepted the award at the celebration in his aunt Jessye Norman’s place, explained that music has always been a central part of the family’s lives growing up — a love and talent that stemmed beginning with his grandparents.
“We are thrilled to support our father’s legacy through Classical Roots,” Silas Prescod Norman said. “The program encapsulates our father’s love for music, culture, community and the city of Detroit. He had the opportunity to participate in the planning of the performances for so many years.”
Norman Jr. spent his life giving back to his Detroit community, not only as a doctor, but also as a philanthropist. Rooted from a passion and talent for music, Norman Jr. worked as a part of the steering committee for Classical Roots, before passing away at the age of 74 after battling cancer.
“Our father embodied strength, faith and dedication to community,” his son said. “He celebrated life and always tried to help any and everyone he could. He understood we are all a community and we have to care for one another. His life is a great example to follow.”
Norman Jr.’s son, a transplant nephrologist and a WSU medical graduate student like his late father, explained that he follows his father’s footsteps everyday by trying to give his patients the best possible care.
Percussionist Joshua Jones, a fellow of the DSO’s African-American Fellowship Program who has been performing with the DSO since 2014, explained the importance of appreciating Norman Jr.’s legacy.
“Seeing someone of (Norman Jr.’s) background and notoriety, especially in Detroit, who gave so many contributions to the community is really nice,” Jones said. To give someone of that generosity the appreciation and credit he deserves is really important.”
Honoring Norman Jr. at the Classical Roots Celebration is what keeps his legacy of being a role model to the Detroit and DSO community alive.
Silas Prescod Norman said that bringing to light the accomplishments of African-Americans the DSO is giving a great representation of the power and possibility of music.
Jones explained that getting to know who most don’t know about, like people of color, in the classical music world is very important.
“Headliners aren’t usually black,” Jones said. “Not only is it because of the normalcy of having a Caucasian or Asian-American person perform as the headliner, but it’s also the small scale of how many African-Americans are playing music. You can’t really name too many famous African-American performers there are (in classical music).”
Jones, combined in efforts with the DSO, strives to bring music opportunities and inspiration to students in Detroit schools. Leading to the days of the Classical Roots Celebration, Jones visited and performed at three schools: Chandler Park Academy, Spain Elementary/Middle School and International Prep Academy.
Jones explained that when he was 12 years old and walked into an orchestra, he felt out of place because of the shade of white on stage. Growing up, his dad told him that because he was black, he had to work twice as hard as everyone else.
“Having someone like me that had a similar (racial) background and was successful would have been nice to see,” Jones said. “I’m hoping to inspire that there is opportunity out there and motivate those kids to go out there and give their dreams and aspirations a shot.”
In working to create opportunities for youth, the Classical Roots also breaks racial stereotypes by giving African-Americans classical legends a chance to be recognized and appreciated.
“Classical Roots reminds us that there is quite an extraordinary history of African American creativity in classical music that helps form the foundation of the classical music we enjoy today,” Silas Prescod Norman said.
To visit the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s website, visit: http://www.dso.org.
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