‘Classical Roots’ to explore Music Hall’s diverse history

Classical Roots Community Mass Choir
Photo provided

This year’s “Classical Roots” concert will explore Music Hall’s history as a gathering place for a wide spectrum of Cincinnati’s society.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s “Under One Roof,” led by Pops conductor John Morris Russell, will take place at 7:30 p.m. on April 20 in Music Hall. The program will illuminate Music Hall’s history — both as a great concert venue for the orchestra in the main hall and as a community gathering place that hosted many of the greatest jazz, soul, rock and R&B artists of the 20th century in the Greystone Club. Today that space in the South Hall is known as the Music Hall Ballroom.

The concert will celebrate legendary African-American opera singers such as Marian Anderson – the first African-American to perform on Music hall’s stage — and the great Leontyne Price, who also performed in Music Hall’s Springer Auditorium.

Russell says he also plans to tell stories that many Cincinnatians may not know about the Greystone Club, which hosted the top African-American jazz talent of the 20th century: Billie Holliday, Cab Callaway, Sarah Vaughan, Fats Domino, and Duke Ellington, among many others.

And in the opposite side of the massive building, Heavyweight Champion Ezzard Charles even boxed in the North Hall Arena.

“These are all giants of American cultural history and represent an important and vital part of the Music Hall story,” Russell says. His program will include music by African-American composers such as Eubie Blake and James Reese Europe.

William Henry Caldwell, conductor of the Classical Roots Community Mass Choir. Photo provided

Russell and the orchestra will be joined by the Classical Roots Community Mass Choir, prepared by Willian Henry Caldwell and other local ministers of music. The choir, comprised of 150 singers from area churches, will participate in music by Duke Ellington, William L. Dawson and The Rev. James Cleveland, and will also perform selections from Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.”

The program will also feature the CSYO Nouveau Chamber Players, a string ensemble of talented African-American and Latino students. And the audience will meet seven CSO/CCM Diversity Fellows, who are part of a groundbreaking program that aims to increase the diversity of American orchestras.

The CSO is also announcing its inaugural Classical Roots Artist-in-Residence who will be working with CSO musicians, local students, and members of the community, April 2 to 5.

Acclaimed violinist and community activist Kelly Hall-Tompkins will be on hand to share her
journey from student to professional as an African-American classical musician. She was named The New York Times’ 2017 “New Yorker of the Year” and her YouTube videos have garnered over 1,472,000 views. CSO musicians will join her in recital on April 5, 7 p.m. at First Unitarian Universalist Church in Avondale, with a program that includes Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Clarinet Quintet.

Tickets for Classical Roots start at $25 for full view seating and are $10 for limited view. Tickets can be purchased by visiting or calling the CSO Box Office at 513-381-3300 or visiting cincinnatisymphony.org/classicalroots.

April 5 recital: First Unitarian Universalist Church is located at 536 Linton Street in Avondale. Recital tickets are $10 and can be purchased through the CSO box office and website, 513.381.3300 or cincinnatisymphony.org.

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