By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Composer, musician, and scholar J. Donald Dumpson spent years in Philadelphia’s public schools and at local colleges, providing the early instruction for superstars like Boyz II Men and Amel Larrieux.
But the more Dumpson studied music and mastered the art, the more he began to wonder.
“Why don’t I see me in all of this academic work I am doing,” asked Dumpson, who is working to complete his PhD in music education at Temple University.
Dumpson says his training included classical works by Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms, but composers of African descent — like William Grant Still and George Walker — were never a part of the repertoire.
So his journey began.
“My interest is to build a bridge,” he says, “to bring the African-American arts in connection with Eurocentric music and not to have the African-American music to the side as a specialty experience.”
Over the past few years, as president of his own production company, J. Donald Dumpson Productions, this master keyboardist, choral arranger, and voice coach has helped to produce the syndicated television special, “An Evening of Stars,” and assisted with the Opera Company of Philadelphia’s production of “Porgy and Bess.”
Dumpson includes African-American composers, singers, and artists in his productions, acting out his vision of black inclusion in classical music.
“It doesn’t have to be an all-white program or all-black program,” says Dumpson. “It’s broader than that.”
In December 2013 he served as artistic and music director for “A Soulful Christmas Shout for Joy!” at Verizon Hall, where he directed a 200-voice, multicultural choir before a sold-out crowd.
Dumpson says the event filled a void in Kimmel Center programming.
“There was the orchestra and the Philly Pops, but where was the celebration that acknowledges the black experience, but does so and includes classical?” wondered Dumpson, who notes that the classical music used in the show was created by a black composer.
“That’s what made it different,” he said.
In addition to his work as a music producer, Dumpson is the music director for Arch Street Presbyterian Church. He says he hopes to continue to push for inclusion of composers of African descent so that music by African-Americans and people of color will be a part of mainstream programming.
“My vision is that it will be in the consciousness and valued as fine music that is considered throughout the year,” he says.
Hear the extended interview with J. Donald Dumpson in this CBS Philly podcast (runs 18:27)…