Reviving Interest in African-American Composers

Categories: ASC Projects, Blog

Nathaniel Dett and Undine Smith Moore are probably not familiar to most casual music listeners, but the Charlotte Contemporary Ensemble (CCE) wants to change that. The 32-year-old choral group is taking on the music of great, but often overlooked, African-American composers in order to preserve and promote the genre in their latest concert series.

Brenda Porter-Dewitt, president of CCE, said the group wants to show audiences that African-Americans have historically contributed to wide array of musical genres.

“Although we love and appreciate the gospel and hip-hop music that is so prevalent today, we, as a choral performing group, have a responsibility to educate our audiences about the existence of a wider range of music composed and arranged by African-Americans,” Porter-DeWitt said.

CCE received a $6,000 Cultural Access grant to support three concerts in this series celebrating African-American composers and arrangers. In addition to a concert held last November, the group will perform twice more. The first concert of 2011 will be at Mayfield Memorial Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte on March 6 at 4 p.m. The final performance in the series will take place May 22 at 5 p.m. at Johnson C. Smith University’s Jane M. Smith Memorial Church.

CCE will also perform Sunday, Jan. 30 at 3 p.m. as part of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church’s music series, also supported by ASC.

“We’re very excited about the possibilities,” Porter Dewitt said. “As a result [of the grant] we’ve been able to collaborate with other performing arts groups and work across cultural lines.”

CCE was founded in 1979. The group has approximately 25 members who range in age from 19 to 70.

Porter Dewitt said she hopes the concert series will educate the public and raise awareness of these musicians.

“[The concert series] allows the community to see that there are African-American composers who are of the caliber of Stravinsky and others,” Porter Dewitt said. “They compose on the same level; it’s just a matter of making sure that particular segment does not die and to give these composers the credit that they have not necessarily been receiving.”