African American Music Conference
(Sept. 2020)

Virtual Conference: Sept. 18-20, 2020

Above: Willis Patterson and Our Own Thing Chorus–Founded by Willis Patterson in 1968, the Instructional Program provides free instruction in the arts, both vocal and instrumental, rental of musical instruments, and scholarships to area youngsters who would otherwise be unable to afford the opportunity to study music.

University of Michigan Professor Emeritus Willis Patterson (MM ’59, BM ’58 voice) is the featured guest for the 2020 African American Music Conference of the University of Michigan. A joint celebration of his 90th birthday and his legendary career, the conference will feature events including a mixture of pre-recorded and live conversations featuring alums of the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance (SMTD), the 1963 cast of the NBC-TV production of Menotti’s opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, and will explore his teaching, artistry, and impact on the fields of jazz and African American concert repertoire.

Willis C. Patterson, professor emeritus of voice and former associate dean, joined the faculty of the University of Michigan in 1968, as the first African American member of the SMTD faculty, after having taught at Southern University (Louisiana) and Virginia State College. Dr. Patterson concertized extensively in the U.S. and Europe and appeared as bass soloist with major American orchestras. He was a Fulbright Fellow and a winner of the Marian Anderson Award for young singers. He served as president of the National Association of Negro Musicians and as executive secretary of the National Black Music Caucus.

Video from this Virtual Conference

Sept. 18, 2020

“Delivering a more dynamic, diverse curriculum for the 21st century music student”

Panel discussion about the importance of and strategies to contemporize the musical canon.

Chair: Louise Toppin, University of Michigan
Ronald Crutcher, President, University of Richmond
Toni-Marie Montgomery, Dean, Northwestern University
Marvin Curtis, former Dean, Indiana University South Bend

Sept. 19, 2020

“Sounding New: Black Art Song in the Twenty-First Century”

In 1916, concert artist, arranger, music editor, and composer, Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949), published Jubilee Songs of the United States. Arranged for piano and voice, the songs represented a landmark as it established the solo Black art song as a distinct genre. Willis Patterson’s landmark collection, Anthology of Art Songs by Black American Composers was published in 1977. Its influence on the post-Civil Rights era pedagogy and performance of Black concert music has been inestimable. By building on Burleigh’s legacy, Patterson’s anthology has been central to establishing Black art songs as an important tradition of practice in American concert life on par with German Lieder and French Chanson.

This session explores how contemporary artists continue to build on this dynamic legacy through musical works that extend the techniques, themes, and concerns of the Black art song into the twenty-first century.

Introduction: Stephen Michael Newby, Seattle Pacific University
Moderator: Uzee Brown, Morehouse College
Panelists: Brittney Boykin (B.E. Boykin), Spelman College; Adolphus Hailstork, Old Dominion University; Dave Ragland (Dave Ragland Music), and Darryl Taylor (Darryl Taylor, countertenor), University of California, Irvine

“New Frontiers in Black Music Studies”

Since the first African American Symposium of 1985, Black music research has surged with no sign of waning. What at one time represented a niche interest in the academy is now recognized as one of the most energized, rigorous, and popular fields of inquiry in the millennium. The studies on this panel showcase new and on-going scholarship on Black musicians who have made an indelible mark on the American musical landscape from the nineteenth century to the present.

Introduction: Christi-Anne Castro, Chair, Musicology Department, University of Michigan

Moderator: Kyra Gaunt, University of Albany

Panel: Tammy Kernodle, Miami University of Ohio
Alisha L. Jones, Indiana University
Christopher Brooks, Virginia Commonwealth University
Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr., University of Pennsylvania

The cast of the NBC 1963 broadcast of Amahl and the Night Visitors, Richard Cross, and Kurt Yaghjian reunite for a conversation with Willis Patterson about this historic production.

Moderated by Arthur White (Michigan Opera Theatre – Detroit Opera House), Michigan Opera Theater’s Director of External Affairs.
Introduction: Scott Piper, Chair, Voice Department, University of Michigan

Sept. 20, 2020

“Black Concert Life Matters”

The recent Black Lives Matter protests build on the historical momentum of earlier organized dissents such as the 1940s “Double V” campaign, the push for Civil Rights in the 1960s and, of course, the Black Power movement of the 1970s. Music has always accompanied these calls for equality in society. What is often missing in public discourse, however, is the role of Black art music in these demands for justice. This panel takes on this question by exploring Willis Patterson’s model of forward thinking, on-the-ground musical activism as a paradigm for the future. Radio broadcast of Willis Patterson the performer featuring his pre-recorded jazz and classical performances.

Introduction: Charles Lwanga, University of Michigan
Chair: Dwight Andrews, Emory University
Panelists: Bill Banfield, Berklee College of Music (Emeritus), Anthony R. Green and Ashleigh Gordon, Castle of our Skins, and Marquese Carter, Murray State University.

Happy Birthday Willis Patterson! Closing Greetings and Presentations

Performances and greetings by friends, students, and colleagues.

More information:

All Video on Vimeo

All video from this virtual conference (except for the Bentley Library event) is available via Vimeo on this channel.

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African American Music Conference
2020 Schedule

Stay tuned here for the latest schedule for the conference!

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African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County

Oral History: A Conversation with Willis Patterson (2013)

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Part of

Classic Song Research Initiative

Related Resources


University of Michigan Master Class
(Feb. 3, 2020)


“Song as Citizenship” Symposium
(February 2020)


Adolphus Hailstork:


The Art of Democracy:
Singing Down the Barriers


The Art of Democracy:
The Songs of African American Composers


The Art of Democracy:
Song as Active Citizenship