What is Juneteenth?
On June 19, 1865, about two months after the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Va., Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved African-Americans of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended. General Granger’s announcement put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued more than two and a half years earlier on Jan. 1, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln.
The holiday received its name by combining June and 19. The day is also sometimes called “Juneteenth Independence Day,” “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day.”
- The New York Times
Josaphat Contreras is a native of Alief Houston, Texas where he attended Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas and received his Bachelor of Arts in Music with an emphasis in voice studies under the tutelage of Michael Walsh . During his time at Sam Houston state, he performed the title role in Orpheus in the Underworld, Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi, and Alfredo in Die Fledermaus to name a few. Josaphat has had the opportunity to travel and perform in summer programs all over the country and the world most notably in Salzburg, Austria and Bogota, Colombia. Since moving to Boston from Texas in the fall of 2018, Josaphat has been in a production of Amahl and The Night Visitors as King Kaspar, performed with Odyssey Opera, has been a featured soloist for United Parish in Brookline, Choral Art Society of South Shore, and Cape Cod Chorale. Josaphat Contreras is also a member of Voices21C under the direction of Andre De Quadros. Since the fall of 2019, Josaphat serves as the Teaching Fellow for Junior Mens Ensemble and recently appointed to be the Teaching Fellow for the Young Mens Ensemble at Boston Children’s Chorus. Josaphat is currently the Boston Latin Academy A cappella & After-School Choir director since the start of this year. You can also catch Josaphat Sunday mornings at United Parish in Brookline where he is the Associate Music Director. When Josaphat is not singing or teaching, he enjoys spending time with his 2 dogs Rufus, Delilah and his wife Amanda.
Erayle Ashley, soprano, is studying Music Education with a minor in Arts Management at Simpson College. She has performed in many locations, including Jones Hall, Canada, the Des Moines Playhouse, at the Bay View Music Association and the Blank Performing Arts Center. Favorite past roles include Pamina (the Magic Flute), Mabel (Pirates of Penzance), Sarah (Ragtime), and Galatea (Acis and Galatea). In the Fall of 2020, she will student teach in Indianola, Iowa.
Julia Engel is a former Minnesotan who is happy to not have to shovel snow anymore. In addition to singing wherever she can, she teaches voice lessons in Katy to middle school and high school students. Julia understands that she has benefited greatly from a system of White supremacy, and is committed to be a part of the solution rather than the problem. Black Lives Matter. Other skills include raising a toddler, reading children’s books in awesome voices, dancing, and drinking Laphroaig.
JULIE JACKSON’s warm, expressive voice along with her elegant, and poised demeanor is at ease performing domestically or abroad. Mrs. Jackson’s operatic roles include Donna Elvira (cover with Spotlight on Opera), Giovanna (Rigoletto, Opera in the Heights), Mabel (The Pirates of Penzance, Houston Gilbert and Sullivan Society), and Madame Goldnertrille (Der Schauspieldirektor, Franco American Vocal Academy, Salzburg). Mrs. Jackson holds a Master of Liberal Arts in Music (Voice) from the University of St. Thomas as well as a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Houston. She has also studied internationally in the young artist programs of Centro Studi Lirica (Novafeltria, Italy) with Joan Patenaude-Yarnell and the Franco-American Vocal Academy (Salzburg, Austria) with Bruce Fowler and domestically in Cindy Sadler’s DIY Summer Program and Spotlight on Opera (online in response to the Covid-19 pandemic). Mrs. Jackson makes her company debut with Operativo (Houston) in their production of Pimpinone as Vespetta in Spring 2021. She has been the soprano soloist in Mozart’s Requiem with the Woodlands Symphony Orchestra and the soprano soloist in C minor Mass with the Texas Southern University Orchestra. She is also a regular soloist with Houston Ebony Opera Guild and the Houston Gilbert and Sullivan Society. Based in Houston, TX, Mrs. Jackson is happily married to professional tuba player and teacher Ali Jackson. The couple enjoy spending time together and raising their 2-year-old tabby-calico mix, KitKat.
Geoffrey Peterson is a lyric baritone from Trumansburg, New York, currently residing in Houston, Texas. He most recently performed with Opera in the Heights in Amahl and the Night Visitors (King Melchior). Previous credits also include La Fille du Regiment (Corporal), Speed Dating Tonight (Nosey Parent), and The Gondoliers (Luiz). Peterson is currently touring with Houston Grand Opera’s: Opera to Go production of Strega Nona (Pavo Picasso). Previous tours include Cinderella in Spain (King/Evil Stepsister), and The Elixir of Love (Dulcamara). He also is a member of the Houston Grand Opera Chorus. An advocate for multicultural representation in the arts, Peterson has also performed as a soloist with the Houston Ebony Opera Guild, The Dorothy Cotton Jubilee singers, and the Vitamin L chorus.
Errin Michelle Hatter is a Houston Based soprano singer who performs regularly as a Chorister with Opera in the Heights and is the Soprano Section leader at Trinity Episcopal Midtown. She is also a member of Exigence Vocal Ensemble of the Sphinx Organization based in Detroit. She earned her Masters of Liberal Arts with Vocal concentration from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, TX. She has taught private voice and piano lessons for 15 years and has also been choir director in public schools for 5 years.
Performers and Selections
Lord I Have Seen - John Dangerfield
Come Down Angels - Undine Smith Moore
Del cabello mas sutil - Fernando Obradors
Te quiero dijiste - Maria Grever
Jurame - Maria Grever
Genius Child, Genius Child: Mortal Storm Song Cycle - Robert Owens
You've got to be Carefully Taught, South Pacific - Rodgers and Hammerstein
Night by Florence Price
Song to the Dark Virgin - Margaret Bonds
Information on these amazing composers is not always readily available. It is worth noting that even though they have not been included in the canon of composers, they comprise a very important and integral portion of American Music History and should be included in mainstream studies of American Art song, Chorales, Symphonies, etc. The following composers and many that I do not mention, composed beyond what was originally believed--in other words, any thought that African-American composers have not contributed enough to be included in traditional classical studies is far from the truth. I hope that, through this brief introduction to the composers -or refresher- you are inspired to learn more about them and perhaps add their music to your repertoire and bring their music to life, never to be lost again.
Additionally, Spanish, Portuguese, Central and Latin American composers are often overlooked, as well, although we’ve heard their music performed by popular performers, these composers are very often not referenced or only referenced briefly in traditional classical studies. They represent yet another underrepresented population. Luckily, thanks to a major international project to publish collections of Latin American & Iberican composers, hopefully, these can be added to traditional classical studies.
I hope that the stigma that only a certain group and study and perform music by African-American Composers, Hispanic composers or ANY composer fades and we give talented composers the attention they deserve and the performances they deserve among the currently well-known composers of centuries past.
For each composer, I’ve written a brief bio and included websites and listening examples. You can also find their music on the playlists that you can find on I Colori Dell’opera’s Youtube Channel.
Undine Smith Moore (1904 - 1989) African American female composer attended Fisk University and composed many songs for the Fisk Singers while she attended. After receiving advanced degrees, she worked as a piano teacher and taught symposiums about black composers. Many sources refer to her as the Dean of Black Women Composers. She held her position at Virginia State University from 1927 until her retirement in 1972. Some of her noteworthy compositions are her Afro-American Suite and her oratorio based on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr called “Scenes from the life of a martyr.
Dr. John Dangerfield Cooper (1923 - 2006) African American Composer who wrote in nearly every genre. He briefly was an instructor, but it seems that much of his career he spent working in different churches. His history is less published than many other Black composers. There is a dissertation in which a DMA candidate recently presented his analysis of Dr. Cooper, his style, his music and his life based on the music and artifacts he found. It can be found at
Margaret Bonds (1913 - 1972) Black Woman Composer. She won various awards for her compositions during her studies at Northwestern University. She was a contemporary of Langston Hughes, Florence Price and William Dawson. She was the first black soloist to appear with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Her well known compositions include an arrangement of He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands. She wrote settings of Langston Hughes Poems and was also a piano teacher to Ned Rorem. She wrote classical music as well as writing for some of the Jazz Greats, including Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong. Although she was a well known composer and performer during her life, a great amount of her music was lost, though she wrote at least 200 pieces, only about 40 were published during her lifetime and many more were lost. You can read more about Margaret Bonds and hear samples of her work from the following sources.
Florence Price (1887 - 1953) was the first African American composer to have her music played by a major city symphony. Her music after her death had been lost until a couple happened to find it in an abandoned house that used to be her summer home. During her lifetime, she was able to have her music published by a major publishing company and also enjoyed the close friendship of Margaret Bonds, with whom she and her children lived with in Chicago. Price composed over 200 pieces in total including symphonies, art songs, and arrangements of spirituals, including “My Soul’s Been Anchored in de Lord” for the famous mezzo-soprano Marian Anderson’s international broadcast. There are several current projects for recording and reviving her music.
Maria Grever (1885- 1951) was the first Mexican female composer to achieve international acclaim. She lived in Mexico, Seville, Spain, and New York City, where she began to compose for film, eventually having tenor Jose Mojica record some of the songs that are famously associated with Grever. In 1959, Dinah Washington recorded “What A Difference a Day Makes” (originally “Cuando vuelva a tu lado”) for which she won a Grammy. She also is the subject of a biopic in which Libertad Lamarque portrayed her, titled “Cuando me vaya.”
Fernando Obradors (1897 - 1945) was a Spanish Composer who seemed to be primarily self-taught as a composer, though he was taught piano by his mother. He taught at Las Palmas Conservatory and he was the conductor of the Gran Canaria Philharmonic Orchestra. His noteworthy compositions include a song cycle of his friend Federico Garcia Lorca’s Poems.
Robert Owens (1925 - 2017) was a Texas Native who moved to Europe in the 1950s in order to pursue his composing and music aspirations more freely. His style seemed to be in the tradition of German Lieder, inspired by Schubert, Wolf, and Brahms. He, like many composers, began studying music and writing music at a very young age. He grew up in California where he composed and performed his work from age 10 until he graduated from high school. From there, after serving in the military during World War II, he moved to France to study music and essentially, “globetrotted” until he ultimately settled in Germany where he, in addition to composing, also had a career as an actor. He wrote song cycles, piano and instrumental music and opera. His Mortal Storm Song Cycle is a setting of Langston Hughes’ poetry, composed for voice and piano.
(Mortal Storm Cycle)
Rodgers & Hammerstein
Richard Rodgers (1902 - 1979) & Oscar Hammerstien II (1885 - 1960) are probably one of the most well known lyricists and composers in the world. Known for standard musical theater favorites such as the Sound of Music, Cinderella, and South Pacific, the duo seem to have dominated the classic musical theater repertoire. Together, they wrote 11 musicals in their lifetime and many of them are still performed around the world. Sound of Music, the last musical written by the duo before the death of Hammerstien in 1920, was recently performed live on tv.
South Pacific (1949 stage; 1958 movie) Music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hamerstien II. The musical is based on an award winning short story collection about the South Pacific during World War II by James Michener. The musical follows a nurse stationed in the South Pacific during World War II who must overcome her prejudices in order to agree to marry the man she loves, a French Plantation owner who has children with a Polynesian woman. Read the full synopsis and view a scene from the movie.