African American Network presents a tribute to Civil Rights music

THE MAGNIFICENT MEMBERS of the Chicago West Community Music Center. Their performances are jewels to behold. (Photo courtesy CSO)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra African American Network presents a tribute to the role of music in the battle for Civil Rights, along with the members of the Chicago West Community Music Center (CWCMC).

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of their Chicago West Community Music Center, an after-school program serving more than 250 students from diverse neighborhoods, Darlene and Howard Sandifer have built a program that spans the decades of American-and European-centered music from gospel to jazz to Motown as well as classical and opera. With their frequent travels to music capitals in France, Brazil and China, the Sandifers have become international music ambassadors.

This highly anticipated concert titled “James Reese Europe, The Life, The Music, The Legacy,” and featuring the works of the pioneering African-American composer-bandleader (1880-1919) Reese Europe, will be held on Friday, January 24, 2020, at 7:00 p.m. at Buntrock Hall at Chicago Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave. Reese Europe, regarded as a pivotal figure in the development of ragtime and jazz, represents the current reclamation project of Howard Sandifer, CWCMC’s director.

The pieces that the students will perform are an important part of American music history, though often overlooked now. Reese Europe brought a hand-picked regimental band to Paris after the United States entered World War I. The group earned wide acclaim by playing his own music, a predecessor of 1920s jazz, and his example “opened the door to a lot of performers” such as Duke Ellington and Josephine Baker.

Sandifer, and some former students of his who are now composers and arrangers, have reconstructed Reese Europe’s music for performance from recordings that he [Reese Europe] made after the WWI. “He helped create the foxtrot, the Charleston — he was on the edge of full-fledged jazz style,” Sandifer said.

In October, the Sandifers and 15 students traveled to Paris for a symposium to mark the 100th anniversary of the Pan-African Congress, which involved Black music as well as politics. “It was a tremendous experience” for the students who went, Sandifer said. “They got to perform, to visit schools, to have jam sessions with Parisian students.”

Reese Europe’s music “was a genre that I hadn’t heard about,” said Doriyon Ward, 17, a trumpet player with the CWCMC Orchestra, “and I could tell from the faces in the audience that they hadn’t, either. But it definitely affected the styles we hear today.”

Read more here:


Subscribe to our Newsletter
Stay up-to-date