June 19 concert at Red Bank NJ celebrates black songwriters

RED BANK — If you asked a group of chamber music enthusiasts to name a string quartet, Czech composer Antonín Dvořák’s “American” would be among the top ten guesses, said Chris Foard, chairman of the board of directors of the RED BANK. Red Bank Chamber Music Society. , mentioned.

But what many music lovers may not know is that one of Dvořák’s influences was Harry Burleigh, a black composer with whom he became colleagues at a music conservatory in New York.

Burleigh and a number of other black musicians will be celebrated at a June 19 concert at Red Bank United Methodist Church. The Red Bank Chamber Music Society, in partnership with the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center, will host the Harlem Chamber Players for a free concert beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 19.

The partnership was born shortly after June 19 last year, the first year the holiday was celebrated as a national holiday, commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.

T. Thomas Fortune, a pioneering black journalist who owned three newspapers and worked with Ida B. Wells and Booker T. Washington, lived in Red Bank.

Gilda Rogers, the center’s executive director, said her family were musicians.

“They had recitals and things like that at their house,” Rogers said. “So music was very vital in the Fortune house.”

Fortune’s wife, Carrie Fortune, was a classically trained pianist and singer. She would play at St. Thomas Episcopal Church located less than a mile west of where the Harlem Chamber Players will play next month.

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When the Red Bank Chamber Music Society approached Rogers about hosting a concert featuring black musicians from the 18th to 20th centuries, they thought it was a great idea.

She wanted to learn more about black musicians “in a time when we weren’t thought to be artists. And they are masters of their craft.

The event will also feature commentary from Liz Player, Founder and Executive and Artistic Director of the Harlem Chamber Players, who will explain the selected pieces and their significance to classical chamber music.

Composers include Joseph Bologna or Chevalier de Saint-Georges, who was Mozart’s contemporary and was known for both his music and his fencing ability, according to Foard.

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Foard said, “It’s so fascinating to see how he went from being a poor boy in Guadeloupe to becoming well known in French society by writing music.”

The program will also include Harry Burleigh, who introduced Dvořák to Native American and Black music; Florence Price, the first black woman to have a composition performed by a large orchestra; and George Walker, the first black recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music and professor at Rutgers University.

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Foard said the music will range from early classical to classical romantic and 20th century music styles.

“Chamber music is often seen as being very white, very elitist,” Foard said. “We wanted to show how there have been African American or black contributions from the beginning.”

“Just as we all participate in the 4th of July, everyone should participate in Juneteenth,” Rogers said. “Because it’s the rapprochement of cultures. Black and white, despite what was good, bad and ugly.

Rogers said the event will be educational for everyone who attends.

“I think the reaction we want is like, ‘Wow. I had no idea this music existed and had the impact it had,” Foard said.

Olivia Liu is a journalist covering transport, Red Bank and West Monmouth County. She can be contacted at oliu@gannett.com.

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