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Atlanta Music Festival Features Opera Singer Laquita Mitchell

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New York City Opera star Laquita Mitchell.

The 2013 Atlanta Music Festival: African American Concert Music and American Culture returns to the city Sept. 18-21 with a series of performances and programs designed to explore the dynamic character of American music and arts through the lens of African American concert music.

Organized by Emory University, Atlanta's First Congregational Church and Meridian Herald, the Atlanta Music Festival (AMF) will feature New York City Opera star Laquita Mitchell.

The AMF culminates in a concert at 7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 21, in the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts at Emory, and includes:

  • Mitchell and Atlanta tenor Timothy B. Miller,
  • the Morehouse College Glee Club,
  • the First Congregational Chancel Choir,
  • the Vega String Quartet and
  • Meridian Chorale.

The concert will include a rare performance of "Personals," a cantata for chorus and brass by renowned composer T.J. Anderson written for the centennial of Fisk University. Also featured will be a piece for string quartet by noted African American composer Dorothy Rudd Moore.  

This year's festival also includes a presentation from the inaugural class of the AMF Summer Conservatory Camp for youth led by Dwight Andrews, a music professor at Emory and pastor of First Congregational Church. Andrews also will give the festival's opening address. Andrews is artistic director of the AMF and Meridian Herald's Steven Darsey serves as the festival's music director.  

The camp and ongoing music lessons seek to expand the festival's reach and cultivate new music performers and fans, and is part of Emory's Graduation Generation program with the Atlanta Public Schools.  

The AMF has significant historical roots in its namesake city as part of an effort by First Congregational Church a century ago to unite all Atlantans through music with what was then known as the "Atlanta Colored Music Festival." The festival took shape in 1910, when African American minister Henry Hugh Proctor put forward a then-daring idea: racial harmony through appreciation of music.

More than a century later, the mission of the Atlanta Music Festival still fulfills Proctor's vision — affirming contributions of African Americans to arts and culture and deepening understanding of what it means to be American.

All events prior to the concert are free. Concert tickets are $25; $5 students via Arts at Emory Box Office, 404-727-5050. For student tickets, call the box office. See for more information.

The festival week also includes:

  • a literature panel discussion with prize-winning Emory poet Kevin Young,
  • assemblies with Mitchell for local school children,
  • a vocal workshop for area college students, and
  • a panel discussion on musical composition with T. J. Anderson. 

View full schedule of events.

Roots in Atlanta's civil rights history

In the wake of Atlanta's race riots in 1906, First Congregational Church instituted programs to improve the prospects of black communities and to encourage racial harmony. In 1910, members of the congregation were denied admittance to Metropolitan Opera performances in Atlanta. 

Their response was the creation of the "Atlanta Colored Music Festival" to celebrate African American music and to invite the white community to experience the high cultural attainments of African Americans. The festival featured the most prominent African American concert artists of the day, and today's AMF continues the tradition.

"The festival is a magnificent story of racial progress that came out of a dark moment more than a century ago," says Andrews. "Members of the congregation didn't stop with being rejected and turned the situation into an invitation for all to hear African American music. The concert was one of those bright spots at a dark time when Atlanta was still faced with division, hatred and violence in the wake of the race riots."  

Andrews revived his congregation's music festival tradition almost 15 years ago through collaborations with Meridian Herald, a nonprofit supporting the Meridian Chorale led by AMF music director Steven Darsey. Through their work with the AMF, they have sought to preserve and celebrate African American concert music and to increase understanding among races and faiths through the power of music.

"Music, poetry, history, community action and culture intersect in the Atlanta Music Festival. This year there are workshops led by New York City Opera star Laquita Mitchell, poet Kevin Young, Emory music professor Dwight Andrews, and composer TJ Anderson, among others.  It is a unique, not-to-be missed event," says Jane Thorpe, chair of the steering committee of the Atlanta Music Festival and chair of the Meridian Herald Board.   

Although Emory College was still in Oxford when the first "Atlanta Colored Music Festival" was launched in 1910, that festival and the current one "resonate with Emory's aim to engage fully with our larger community," says Gary Hauk, Emory vice president and deputy to the president. "Our partnership with Meridian Herald and First Congregational Church underscores Emory's long commitment to the humane and reconciling power of history, of literature and of music."

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