Classical Conversations

Celebrating Willis Patterson (Part One)

Willis Patterson in Recital

This is part one of a two-part podcast. For part two, visit this link: https://www.wgte.org/radio/podcasts/classical-conversations/celebrating-willis-patterson-part-two

We hold a listening party in honor of Dr. Willis Patterson's upcoming 90th birthday, with performances from throughout his legendary career as both a singer and an educator. Joining us are Dr. Louise Toppin, Instructor of Voice at the University of Michigan, and Dr. Patterson himself, former Associate Dean and Professor Emeritus at UM. Dr. Toppin has organized and curated this year's African American Music Conference at UM (Sept. 18-20), and tells us about the many virtual offerings centered around Dr. Patterson, who is the conference's featured guest.

Dr. Patterson helps introduce his recordings on our program, and talks about his life in music – much of which involved advocating for African American composers and performers. In 1963, Dr. Patterson famously wrote to NBC television complaining about their practice of using a white singer in blackface for the role of King Balthazar in the televised opera Amahl and the Night Visitors (Menotti). To his surprise, NBC invited Dr. Patterson to audition, and he was selected to play the role himself.

While some musical selections have been truncated due to copyright (for purposes of this downloadable podcast), we hear a modern arrangement of Three African-American Spirituals composed by Matthew Rose (and posted here by permission). Dr. Patterson draws a direct correlation between the three spirituals and the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Link to the conference online: https://smtd.umich.edu/performances-events/african-american-music-conference-2020/
More about Louise Toppin: https://smtd.umich.edu/about/faculty-profiles/louise-toppin/
More about Willis Patterson: https://smtd.umich.edu/willis-patterson-artist-and-advocate/
Isabel Wilkerson's book Caste (referenced in our conversation): https://www.amazon.com/Caste-Origins-Discontents-Isabel-Wilkerson/dp/0593230256

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