Part of the WFMT Radio Network

Archives: February 2018

Black America on Stage at Carnegie Hall

Throughout its history as one of the world’s most distinguished music venues, Carnegie Hall has frequently positioned itself at the forefront of advocacy for performers of diverse backgrounds. This beautiful Google Culture exhibit, entitled “Black History at Carnegie Hall”, draws from the hall’s own extensive archives to illuminate the rich heritage of courage and activism it has demonstrated within arts presenting.

According to the archives, the story of performers of color at Carnegie begins with Madame Sissirietta Jones, known as the Black Patti—a sobriquet referencing Adelina Patti, a popular Italian soprano of the time. In February of 1893, Sissirietta performed a selection of operatic favorites in Carnegie’s main hall, concluding with Charles Gounod’s classic, Bach-flavored setting of the Ave Maria. She was joined by several other soloists of color, as well as the Fisk Jubilee Singers, an a cappella choir that remains active today at Fisk University. Here’s a 1909 recording and a 2016 recording for comparison.

Roland Hayes, a Fisk graduate and the first classical singer of color to record on a major label, performed at Carnegie Hall twice in 1924. In addition to a solo recital in February of that year, he sang Berlioz’s L’Enfance du Christ with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Serge Koussevitsky. Hayes’ tenor garnered superb reviews and, in short order, began to fill concert halls up and down the East Coast. He performed at Carnegie nearly 40 times over the course of his career. Baritone Paul Robeson would also become a Carnegie fixture and appeared there for the first time shortly after Hayes, in 1929. His farewell concert, in 1958, was recorded and released on the Vanguard label. Listen to a selection from that record here, J.S. Bach’s Christ lag in Todesbanden.

Though many associate the first jazz at Carnegie Hall with clarinetist Benny Goodman’s sensational feature appearance there in 1938, earlier iterations of swing had already made it to that stage. As early as 1912, James Reese Europe and his Europe Clef Club Orchestra presented “A Concert of Negro Music” which included only selections by black composers, including Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Harry T. Burleigh. Violinist and composer Will Marion Cook played with the Clef Club group, but it wasn’t his first time at Carnegie Hall—he gave a solo recital there in 1895 while he was still studying with Antonin Dvorak at the National Conservatory.

W.C. Handy, widely labeled the “Father of the Blues”—really, the father of collecting and notating the formerly oral tradition of the blues—also preceded Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall. His Orchestra and huge cadre of Jubilee Singers performed there in April of 1928, featuring Fats Waller on organ. That momentous concert was recreated in its entirety near its 50th anniversary in 1978, featuring W.C.’s 78-year old daughter Katherine Handy, who sang her father’s famous “St. Louis Blues” on both the original program and its semicentennial version.

By the time Benny Goodman led his big band and quintet in “The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert”, black music was no stranger to that hallowed stage. The concert, by all accounts, was a huge success—during “Sing, Sing, Sing” alone, that iconic tune’s first ever performance, famous solos by drummer Gene Krupa (timestamp 3:01), trumpeter Harry James (5:30), Goodman (7:30), and pianist Jess Stacy (9:28) all demonstrate prodigious musicality and a remarkable rapport with the seated audience.

However, the troubled history of the improvised swing music of the ‘30s is mirrored by Goodman’s role, as a white bandleader, in bringing it to the concert hall. Though vibraphonist Lionel Hampton’s appearance with Goodman’s quintet marks likely the first mixed-race ensemble appearance at Carnegie Hall, the way in which critics described this historic cameo is telling. The Saturday Evening Post reported that “Benny found an unknown Negro musician, brought him across the color line into the big time. Lionel Hampton went on to the top, but he’s never forgotten his debt.” Benny Goodman was positioned as the white champion of a music that should have been the domain of black musicians, like Hampton, to present and benefit from. Understandably impartial to such thorny issues of cultural appropriation, it was still a bold cultural step for Carnegie Hall, home of serious music, to host Goodman’s popular dance hall ensembles that night.

Carnegie Hall’s pioneering legacy of advocacy reinforces its reputation as both a concert stage and a public forum. None other than Frederick Douglass, the distinguished abolitionist, gave the introduction for Sissirietta Jones and the Fisk Singers’ engagement. Another post-Reconstruction orator, Booker T. Washington, spoke at the hall no fewer than 17 times around the turn of the 20th century. Marcus Garvey also made several appearances in the early 1920s.

In short, the venue whose Google Maps directions should just read “Practice!” has honored that edict across the board for more than a century, prioritizing discipline and verve among performers and speakers alike above issues of petty discrimination and intolerance.

Tuskegee Institute faculty with Andrew Carnegie, Tuskegee, Alabama Shown from left to right, seated in front row: R.C. Ogden; Mrs. Booker T. Washington (Margaret James Murray Washington); Booker T. Washington; Andrew Carnegie; and an unidentified person.  1906 Frances Benjamin Johnston- Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a10455.

Josh Davidoff, 2017 media intern at WFMT, and senior at Wesleyan University.

Please visit our Carnegie Hall features again, there are more posts to come!

1 Comment Post a Comment

Exploring Music at Carnegie Hall photo tour

Bill McGlaughlin and Exploring Music Producers were taken through the ins and outs of Carnegie Hall by none other than the Hall’s Director of Archives, Gino Francesconi.
Below are featured photos of Exploring Music’s backstage pass to Carnegie Hall.


Gino Francesconi shows Bill McGlaughlin the bedrock of Manhattan Schist on which Carnegie Hall was built on.


Gino Francesconi shows Bill McGlaughlin artifacts of Carnegie Hall's past in the Rose Museum (located within the Hall).


Bill McGlaughlin, Gino Francesconi, Producer Bill Siegmund and Producer Cydne Gillard marvel at a featured wall within the Rose Museum that displays an abundance of record albums recorded at Carnegie Hall.


Bill McGlaughlin, Gino Francesconi and Associate Director or Public Relations Mari Beth Bittan tour the hallways of Carnegie Hall.


Bill McGlaughlin, Gino Francesconi and Producer Bill Siegmund tour the stage of Carnegie's main hall, Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage.


Bill McGlaughlin, Gino Francesconi and Producer Bill Siegmund tour the balcony of Carnegie's main hall, Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage.


Bill McGlaughlin, Gino Francesconi and Producer Bill Siegmund tour Weill Recital Hall.


Bill McGlaughlin, Gino Francesconi and Producer Bill Siegmund go behind the walls of Carnegie Hall.


Bill McGlaughlin, Gino Francesconi and Producer Bill Siegmund clap their hands to test the reverberation of Zankel Hall.


Bill McGlaughlin and Gino Francesconi tour the main room of the Carnegie Hall archives.


Bill McGlaughlin, Karrin Allyson and Gino Francesconi gaze up at the city from the roof of Carnegie Hall.


The view of Resnick Education Wing, on the top of Carnegie Hall.


Post a Comment

Bill McGlaughlin interviews Carnegie Hall’s Executive & Artistic Director, Sir Clive Gillinson

Bill McGlaughlin (left) and Sir Clive Gillinson.

Hello and welcome to our second blog post of Exploring Music at Carnegie Hall-

Today we share with you an interview between Bill McGlaughlin and Sir Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Hall’s Executive and Artistic Director. This interview was recorded during our visit to the hall this last December.  Mr. Gillinson, hailing from across the pond, first came to Carnegie Hall many years ago as a cellist in the London Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of André Previn. In 1984, he was asked by the LSO’s Board of Directors to become their Managing Director - a position that pushed him to create a compelling vision of the role that an orchestra can play in the community that it serves. Since becoming Carnegie Hall’s Executive and Artistic Director in 2005, he has worked with organizations throughout New York City to establish programs and festivals that focus on uplifting the quality, creativity, and diversity of the cultural community that we live in. Sir Gillinson has developed artistic concepts for all three of Carnegie’s halls- Zenkel Hall, Weill Recital Hall, and Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage (all toured by Bill McGlauglin and Gino Francesconi). Please enjoy this interview, as it covers all this and more on Sir Clive Gillinson’s perspective and future visions of Carnegie Hall.

- Aj Williams, Exporing Music Intern 

With the help of Exploring Music Producer Bill Siegmund (middle), Bill McGlaughlin interviews Sir Clive Gillinson (left), Carnegie Hall's Executive and Artistic Director.


Post a Comment

Exploring Carnegie Hall with Bill McGlaughlin


Carnegie Hall, Abigail Edmonds

Hello and welcome to Exploring Music at Carnegie Hall-

For over 127 years, Carnegie Hall has inspired and housed musical and social movements in the United States. Performances on Carnegie’s stage reach far beyond the chairs in the house: Carnegie's audience is global. Case in point: In April of 1961 four million people heard Judy Garland’s concert in a hall with 3,165 in attendance.

Since its founding in 1891, Carnegie Hall has become more than just a collection of concert halls—it’s become one of our Nation’s foremost art institutions and a symbol of “making-it” as an artist and musician. How did Andrew Carnegie’s Concert Hall transform into the hallowed hall we know today?

Join Exploring Music on a journey through America’s most famous music venue, from its rooftop gardens all the way down to the bedrock it was built on, as we explore the myths, legends, and music of Carnegie Hall.

Our guides throughout this series are Bill McGlaughlin and Gino Francesconi, both cultural institutions in their own right. Francesconi has been part of the Hall’s history for over thirty years. He began working as a Carnegie Hall usher, and returned later as the Hall’s first archivist—a job created specifically for him. Since 1986, Francesconi has been growing and documenting the history of Carnegie Hall.

Listen as Gino leads Bill through over a century of history that has played out on stage and behind the scenes. This is a front row center seat and backstage pass to Carnegie Hall.


-Tony Macaluso, WFMT Radio Network


5 Comments Post a Comment
The Exploring Music streaming website is supported by Mr. & Mrs. William Gardner Brown and the Richard P. and Susan Kiphart Family.  
You have opened up the world of Classical Music to me, where previously, it seemed too complicated.
Steffen Demeter
This is simply one of the very best radio programmes in the medium!...The study of the people, the times, and the events that inform the music we otherwise enjoy and even, heaven forbid, take for granted, brings the entire world of the music and the composer to life.
Walther Davies
There isn't a program you broadcast on Exploring Music" that isn't of interest. I find them all engaging. It is a combination of variety of subject, intellectual curiosity and your obvious enthusiasm which characterize your satisfying programs.
Michael Sanders
It’s a great way to re-engage myself with consciousness before heading off to work.
I Love this program! I am in 7th grade and I am the complete opposite of the other kids. I am 4th chair in the orchestra and I love to read. But most of all, I LOVE classical music!
Claudia Wertz
Your show has helped open my mind and heart to this world of music, and every show I hear confirms my place in music and gives me new ideas for where I'd like to go with it in the future….I grew up with classical music as a child and always held it in my heart, but I didn't have the confidence to be a good student (or a good violinist.)
Christine Anderson
Listening to you is almost interactive.You invite us in with so many well modulated dramatic and informative comments, enticing, enthusiastic interpretations, and coherent, beautiful presentations. It's a privilege to follow you into the musical space you create.
Sally Rosenbaum
I just love this program. It is soothing and comfortable at the end of the day. I find his comments interesting, but they aren't so dragged out that there is very little music. The balance of both is just right.
Jean Quay
Newsletters Thank You!