Detroit Symphony Orchestra

12/11/2017 | Press release | Archived content

DSO's 40th Annual Classical Roots Celebration, March 2-3, will honor tenor George Shirley and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation President Earl Lewis

Celebration and concert honors African-American contributions to classical music

Concert, conducted by Joseph Young, will feature Joshua Williams, horn, and the 40th Anniversary Celebration Choir

New component of Classical Roots mission added: The African-American Composer Residency

Detroit, (December 11, 2017) - The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) will honor trailblazing tenor and educator George Shirley and visionary leader and academic Earl Lewis, President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation,at the 40th annualClassical Roots Celebration, March 2-3, 2018. Classical Roots honors African-American composers, musicians, and educators for lifetime achievement and raises funds to support the DSO's African-American music and musician development programs.

The Classical Roots Celebration, including the concert and pre- and post-performance receptions, takes place on Saturday, March 3, 2018 at the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center. A concert-only performance is also scheduled for Friday, March 2, 2018 at 10:45 a.m. in Orchestra Hall.

The 40th anniversary Classical Roots program also marks fifty years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and will include Undine Smith Moore's Scenes from the Life of a Martyr, an oratorio written in tribute to Dr. King and based on his life story. The piece will feature honoree George Shirley as narrator,four vocal soloists, and the 40th Anniversary Celebration Choir, comprising members of the Detroit Choral Society and choirs from Wayne State University and the Detroit School of the Arts.

Joseph Young conducts the program, which also includes the overture to Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus-the first opera that honoree George Shirley appeared in professionally-as well as John Rosamond Johnson's Lift Every Voice and Sing and Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 4 with soloist Joshua Williams, First Prize winner of the 2017 International Horn Competition of America.

The DSO extends the Classical Roots mission beyond the concert hall, with school visits, a chamber recital, and other community events scheduled for the weeks preceding the Celebration. A new addition for the 40th anniversary year is the Classical Roots African-American Composer Residency, an initiative that will select a living composer and premiere his or her work in conjunction with Classical Roots. Learn more at and

Classical Roots is presented by Stanley and Judy Frankel and made possible by J.P. Morgan Chase and the DTE Energy Foundation. This year's Classical Roots Co-Chairs are Therese Peace Agboh and Janice Cosby. See below for the Classical Roots Committee.

About Classical Roots

The mission of the Classical Roots Celebration is to increase awareness of the contributions of African-American composers and musicians through performance and recordings, and to support increased opportunities for African-Americans in classical music through the DSO's African-American Composer Residency, Emerging Composer Program, and African-American Fellowship.

The DSO has for years been at the forefront of the movement to celebrate the contributions of African-American composers, nurture the talents of young African-American classical musicians, and increase access and opportunity for younger African-Americans who might never otherwise experience the magic of classical music. For more information about Classical Roots, visit

About the Honorees

George Shirley, who grew up in Detroit, is an operatic tenor. In the 1950s and 60s, he made history by earning roles previously reserved for whites. He was the first African-American to teach music in Detroit Public Schools, the first African-American to sing with the U.S. Army Chorus, and the first African-American tenor to be awarded a contract with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He is a long-time faculty member at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

Earl Lewis is an author, academic, and visionary leader who currently serves as President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. He was previously Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs (as well as a professor of history and African-American studies) at Emory University, the first African-American to serve in that role. He has also taught at U.C. Berkeley and the University of Michigan.

About the Conductor and Guest Artists

Joseph Young is the Ruth Blaustein Rosenberg Artistic Director of Ensembles at the Peabody Conservatory. He previously served as Assistant Conductor of the Atlanta Symphony and Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra. He was a recipient of the Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Award in 2015, 2013, and 2008. A graduate of the University of South Carolina and the Peabody Conservatory, his teachers include Gustav Meier and Markand Thakar.

Joshua Williams is a rising star among a new generation of horn artists, most recently winning First Prize in the professional division of the 2017 International Horn Competition of America. A native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, he is currently in the final stages of completing his Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Alabama, where his primary teacher is Charles 'Skip' Snead.

The 40th Anniversary Celebration Choir comprises members of the Detroit Choral Society and choirs from Wayne State University and the Detroit School of the Arts.

Vocal soloists for Scenes from the Life of a Martyr are Janice Chandler-Eteme, soprano; Olivia Johnson, mezzo-soprano; and Issachah Savage, tenor.

Classical Roots Committee

The DSO thanks the members of the Classical Roots Committee for their leadership:

Concert-only Classical Roots tickets begin at $15 and can be purchased at, by calling (313) 576-5111, or in person at the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center (3711 Woodward Avenue, Detroit). For group ticket information (groups of 10 or more), please contact Group Sales Manager Jim Sabatella at (313) 576-5130 or [email protected].

Classical Roots Celebration tickets-which include a preconcert reception and strolling dinner, the Classical Roots concert, and the post-concert afterglow-can be purchased by calling Jacqueline Garner at (313) 576-5120. Attendees aged 40 and under are eligible to purchase Young Friends tickets for $85, and full-price tickets begin at $250. Sponsorship opportunities are also available.

Hailed by The New York Times as 'cutting edge,' the internationally acclaimed Detroit Symphony Orchestra is known for trailblazing performances, visionary maestros, collaborations with the world's foremost musical artists, and an ardent commitment to Detroit. As a community-supported orchestra, generous giving by individuals and institutions at all levels drives the continued success and growth of the institution. Esteemed conductor Leonard Slatkin, called 'America's Music Director' by the Los Angeles Times, became the DSO's 12th Music Director, endowed by the Kresge Foundation, in 2008. Acclaimed conductor, arranger, and trumpeter Jeff Tyzik serves as Principal Pops Conductor, while celebrated trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard holds the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Jazz Creative Director Chair. With growing attendance and unwavering philanthropic support from the Detroit community, the DSO's performance schedule includes Classical, Pops, Jazz, Young People's, and Neighborhood concerts, and collaborations with high profile artists from Steven Spielberg to Ben Folds and Lang Lang. In July 2017, the DSO embarked on its first international tour in 16 years, making its debut in China and first visit to Japan in 19 years. A commitment to broadcast innovation began in 1922, when the DSO became the first orchestra in the world to present a radio broadcast, and continues today with the free Live from Orchestra Hall webcast series, which also reaches tens of thousands of children with the Classroom Edition expansion. Making its home at historic Orchestra Hall within the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, one of America's most acoustically perfect concert halls, the DSO actively pursues a mission to embrace and inspire individuals, families, and communities through unsurpassed musical experiences.