The Art of Democracy:
The Songs of African American Composers

Conversation #2 (June 2020 Series)

The Art of Democracy: Song in America
Conversation #2: “The Songs of African American Composers”

June 18, 2020 at 2pm Eastern / 11am Pacific (20h Central European)

Special Guests:

(Please click on guest names to view their full bios below.)

Conversation #2 (June 18, 2020)

"The Art of Democracy: The Songs of African American Composers"
with special guests: Dr. Bill Banfield, Dr. Maria Corley and Dr. Louise Toppin

Musical excerpts from this conversation:

Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to listen to any of Dr. Maria Corley’s music during the conversation. We invite you to listen to her song “Simon the Cyrenian Speaks,” which sets the poetry of Countee Cullen:

Darryl Taylor, countertenor
Brent McMunn, piano



Thomas Hampson

Founder & Director, The Hampsong Foundation

Thomas Hampson, America’s foremost baritone, hails from Spokane, Washington. He has received many honors and awards for his probing artistry and cultural leadership. He enjoys a singular international career as an opera singer, recording artist, and “ambassador of song,” maintaining an active interest in research, education, musical outreach, and technology. Comprising more than 150 albums, his discography includes winners of a Grammy Award, five Edison Awards, and the Grand Prix du Disque.


Mark Clague

Associate Professor of Musicology, University of Michigan, School of Music, Theatre, and Dance

Associate Dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs; Director, U-M Gershwin Initiative; Co-Editor-in-Chief, MUSA; Associate Professor Entrepreneurship & Leadership; Song of America Curriculum Initiative Master Teacher & Advisor


Guest Biographies

Dr. Bill Banfield, composer/author, served ( retired) as Professor of Africana Studies/Music and Society, founding director of the Center for Africana Studies/ Liberal Arts and teaches in the dept. of composition and the graduate school, Berklee College of Music (2005-2020).

In 2002, he served as a W.E.B. Dubois fellow at Harvard University and was appointed by Toni Morrison to serve as the visiting Atelier Professor, Princeton University, 2003, assistant professor of African American Studies and music, Indiana University( 1992-1997), Endowed chair in Arts and Humanities, University St. Thomas, (1992- 2005) and Berklee College of Music (2005-2020).

Dr. Banfield was appointed in 2019 as a research associate with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (CFCH), one of the Smithsonian’s 12 research and cultural centers.

Having served three times as a Pulitzer Prize judge, chair*, in American music (2010/2016/*2020), Banfield is an award-winning composer whose symphonies, operas, and chamber works have been performed and recorded by major symphonies across the country.

Banfield is a national public radio show host having served as arts and culture correspondent for the Tavis Smiley shows. He has authored 6 books on music, arts and cultural criticism, history and biographies, covering everything from contemporary Black composers, to Ornette Coleman, Nikki Manaj and Kendrick Lamar; Landscapes in Color: Conversations With Black American Composers (2002), Black Notes: Essays Of A Musician Writing In A Post Album Age (2004), Cultural Codes: Makings Of A Black Music Philosophy (2010, Scarecrow Press), Representing Black Music Culture (2011), Ethnomusicologizing: Essays On Music In a The New Paradigms (2016) and Pat Patrick: American Musician and Cultural Visionary (2018, Scarecrow Press)

Jamaican-born pianist Maria Thompson Corley was raised in Canada. She has appeared on radio, television, and/or concert stages in Canada, the United States, Central America, the Caribbean, Bermuda and Europe, both as a solo and collaborative artist, including performances in Budapest at the Liszt Academy, and in Carnegie Recital Hall, Aaron Davis Hall and Alice Tully Hall, all in New York City. She has collaborated with such artists as Metropolitan Opera soprano Priscilla Baskerville, Juno Award-winning clarinetist James Campbell, Grammy-winning clarinetist Doris Hall-Gulati, Grammy-nominated baritone Randall Scarlata, and members of the New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestras. Her performances as soloist with orchestra include engagements with the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Gunther Schuller. She has also performed with the Philadelphia-based Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, directed by Jeri-Lynne Johnson.

Her first CD, Dreamer, released internationally on Naxos, contains collaborations with tenor Darryl Taylor. Her subsequent discs, on Albany, include a recording of the first twelve of African American composer Leslie Adams’s etudes for solo piano (seven of which she world-premiered) and Soulscapes, consisting of music for solo piano by African American women. Maria Corley’s recording of “Troubled Water” by Margaret Bonds, included in Soulscapes, was featured in the HBO Family documentary, Kabreeya’s Salad Days. Her performance of Leslie Adams’s Etude in C sharp Minor is featured in Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’s documentary, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.

A former full-time professor at Florida A&M University, Dr. Corley’s undergraduate work was completed at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where she studied with Alexandra Munn, a pupil of Irwin Freundlich. Maria Corley received both master’s and doctorate degrees in piano performance from the Juilliard School, where she was a student of renowned Hungarian pianist, Gyorgy Sandor. Maria Corley was the only pianist admitted into Juilliard’s doctoral program for the period of two years. She was also chosen to represent her alma mater in a tour of Central America, where she gave performances and master classes.

Aside from being an accomplished pianist, Maria Corley is a voice actor who has done spots for Santander, University of Pennsylvania, Unisys, Suntrust and others, an award-winning poet, and an author. She has contributed to Broad Street Review, an online arts magazine, and blogged for Huffington Post. Her first novel, Choices, was published by Kensington, and her current release, Letting Go, was published by Createspace. Her poems and short stories have appeared in Chaleur, Fledgling Rag, Kaleidoscope, Midnight and Indigo, and The Write Launch.

She is also a composer and arranger of music for both solo voice and chorus, with pieces commissioned and/or recorded by the Florida A&M University Concert Choir, MUSE: Cincinnati’s Womens Choir, the Tallahassee Boys Choir, California State University East Bay, countertenor Darryl Taylor and sopranos Louise Toppin and  Randye Jones. Her song cycle Grasping Water has been added to the curricula of courses about art song at University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), Jackdaws Music Education Trust in the U.K., and University of California (Irvine). Her cycle For Terry is published by Classical Vocal Reprints. Her arrangement of “Mary Had a Baby” for women’s voices is published by Walton Music Corporation.

Maria Corley leads an active and busy concert life. Her appearances include a collaboration with countertenor Darryl Taylor in a concert sponsored by the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and a solo recital at the Epidaurus Festival in Cavtat, Croatia. Maria Corley is also half of Duo Chiaroscuro (Sara Male, cello), whose endeavors include “Silence Optional” concerts for people on the autism spectrum, or others who can’t attend classical concerts because of difficulties with remaining absolutely still.

Her compositions can be purchased at Sheet Music Plus.

Professor Louise Toppin has received critical acclaim for her operatic, orchestral, and oratorio performances in the United States, Europe, Czech Republic, Sweden, Uruguay, Scotland, China, England, New Zealand, the Caribbean, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Bermuda, Japan, and Spain. She has appeared in recital on many concert series including Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Broadway’s Hudson Theater, and Lincoln Center. Her most recent Lincoln Center appearance was in June as a part of the Masters of the Spirituals program to honor composers Jacqueline Hairston, Roland Carter and Lena McLin.

Represented by Joanne Rile Artist Management, she toured in “Gershwin on Broadway” with pianist Leon Bates and currently tours in that show with Joseph Joubert, piano and Robert Sims, baritone. She has recorded eighteen compact disks of primarily American Music including solo CDs Songs of Illumination, (Centaur Records), and on Albany Records Ah love, but a day, He’ll Bring it to Pass, (Joseph Joubert, piano), Witness with the Czech National Symphony, Heart on the Wall with the Prague Radio Symphony and La Saison des fleurs, CDs with three publications including A Hall Johnson collection from Carl Fisher publisher. Her newest releases due out in 2020 are Songs of Love and Justice (two CDs of songs for soprano by Adolphus Hailstork); Duos (with countertenor Darryl Taylor on African American vocal chamber music) and The Soprano Songs of T. J. Anderson with pianist John McDonald.

Her other recent performances include the 150th celebration of the ratification of the 13th amendment for Congress and President Obama at the U.S. Capitol; a performance in Havana, Cuba at the new U.S. Ambassador’s residence and with the women’s orchestra Camerata Romeu and in featured recitals for Chautauqua Institute and the opening of the Smithsonian’s African American Heritage Museum.

As a scholar, she has lectured on the music of African American composers and has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered (Margaret Bonds); for many national conventions including the Society for American Music, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the American Cultural Association, the National Association of Negro Music, NASPAM; and on many college campuses including Harvard, Tufts, and Duke. As the co- founder and director of the George Shirley Vocal Competition that focuses exclusively on repertoire by African American art song, and Videmus (a non-profit organization that promotes the concert repertoire of African American and women composers), she encourages the performance and scholarship of African American compositions by students and scholars. She is also the founder of the that is a research tool to locate the
repertoire of composers of the African Diaspora from the 1600s to the present.

Previously, Dr. Toppin was the Kappa Kappa Gamma Distinguished University Professor of Music and Chair of the Department of Music at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is currently Professor of Music (Voice) at The University of Michigan.

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The Art of Democracy
(Summer 2020)

Part of

Classic Song Research Initiative