Pianist Elizabeth G. Hill

The Souls of Black Folk: Rediscovering Black Classical Music

In partnership with Howard University and the Coalition for African Americans in the Performing Arts

PCE explores the roots of Black classical music, from the sorrow songs that speak to the suffering of enslaved Africans in the United States to the spiritual arrangements of composer Harry Burleigh and the musical prophecies of Antonin Dvorak.

With music by Burleigh, Florence Price and Margaret Bonds, and readings from W. E. B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes, we look back at the founders of Black classical music, recall their words, and experiences and examine the times in which they lived.

This concert is the first of three in PCE’s season-long project, The Rediscovery and Renewal of Black Classical Music, which seeks to elevate consequential composers who have too long been neglected for all their profound contributions to American orchestral music. PCE has long been a national leader in unearthing this buried history. By contextualizing this story– where the music came from, why it disappeared, and what to make of it today– we reflect on our nation’s complex cultural history and gain insight into how to nurture understanding and dialogue.

The project coincides with Joe Horowitz’s new book  Dvorak’s Prophecy and the Vexed Fate of Black Classical Music, to be released by Norton in November 2021.

George Shirley, the first Black tenor to sing leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera, writes:

"As Joe Horowitz puts it in "Dvorak’s Prophecy", classical music in America “stayed white.” PostClassical Ensemble’s Black Classical Music Festival explores how and why that happened – and also proposes remedies...

It will be a landmark event in excavating a part of the African-American cultural legacy heretofore barely even glimpsed. I am eager to be a partner in this vital activity.

Because of our current conversation about race, we now observe a seemingly desperate effort to make up for lost time, to present Black faces in the concert hall. I think that’s only fair. But if it’s going to become a permanent new way of thinking, there has to be new understanding.

Dvorak’s Prophecy is on time, it’s a bull’s-eye. As Mark Clague puts it, “the future of American classical music is very much at stake. We have been left unprepared for the current cultural moment.” Dvorak’s Prophecy explains how we got there. It proposes a bigger world of American classical music than what we have known before. It is more diverse and more equitable. And it is more truthful."

Mark Clague, my colleague at the University of Michigan, has called the American music story he himself was taught “malnourished.” Mark further describes an “impoverished disconnect between the rich history of Black American music and the all-but entirely white and European classical-music repertoire studied in American music schools and, not coincidently, heard in the nation’s concert halls.”


The Souls of Black Folk: Rediscovering Black Classical Music

Sunday, November 14, 2021 at 5:00 p.m.

All Souls Church: 1500 Harvard St NW (@16th), Washington, DC

Elizabeth G. Hill, piano

Melissa Constantin, soprano

Howard University student actors

CAAPA Chorale conducted by Music Director Greg Watkins

PostClassical Ensemble conducted by Music Director Angel Gil-Ordóñez

Jenn White, host


  • Harry Burleigh: “Deep River”
  • Harry Burleigh/Langston Hughes: “Lovely Dark and Lonely One”
  • Margaret Bonds/Langston Hughes: “African Dance"
  • Margaret Bonds/Langston Hughes: excerpts from The Ballad of the Brown King
  • Margaret Bonds/Langston Hughes: "The Negro Speaks of Rivers"
  • Margaret Bonds: “Dem Bones”
  • Margaret Bonds: “Valley of the Bones”  
  • Harry Burleigh: “Wade in the Water”
  • Margaret Bonds: “Troubled Water”
  • Florence Price: Six Pieces (1947)  
  • Florence Price: Fantasie Negre No. 4
  • Florence Price: Octet for Brasses and Piano (world premiere)
  • Post-Concert Discussion


Special Thanks to the Leadership Council

Terri Allen
Executive Director
Coalition for African Americans in the Performing Arts

Dr. Gwynne Brown
Professor of Musicology
University of Puget Sound

Dr. Lorenzo F. Candelaria
Professor of Musicology
Vanderbilt University

Catherine Chieco, MS, MSW

Dr. Mark Clague
Associate Professor of Musicology
University of Michigan

Eugenia V. Colón, CFRE
President & CEO
Colón & Associates, LLC

Dr. John Michael Cooper
Professor of Music
Southwestern University

Christopher Cowan
Director, U.S. International
Development Finance Corp.

Kevin Deas

Kehembe V. Eichelberger
Associate Professor Voice
Howard University

Regan Leslie Ford
Director, SE Washington, DC, Campus
Levine Music

Dr. Matthew Franke
Master Instructor
Howard University

Jennifer Hayman
Director of Music and Arts
All Souls Church Unitarian

Melvin and Juanita Hardy
Millennium Arts Salon Center for Contemporary Art

Marty Austin Lamar
Director of Music and Creative Arts
Metropolitan A.M.E. Church

Ricky Ramón
Professor, Theater
Howard University

George Shirley
University of Michigan

Pamela Simonson
Coalition for African Americans in the Performing Arts

Jeffery Tribble Jr.
President and CEO
Levine Music

Greg Watkins
Music Director
CAAPA Chorale

Thank you to our funders and sponsors:

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