HearTOGETHER Podcast

From Programming to Progress: MLK Day Live Recording

February 18, 2022 The Philadelphia Orchestra / Tori Marchiony Season 2 Episode 6
HearTOGETHER Podcast
From Programming to Progress: MLK Day Live Recording
Show Notes Transcript

Reflections on programming, progress, "the American dream," and more!

On January 17th, 2022, as part of The Philadelphia Orchestra's annual day of free community programming in observance of Martin Luther King Jr day, an audience gathered in the Perelman Theater at The Kimmel Center for From Programming to Progress, a live panel discussion with pianist Michelle Cann, Juilliard ethnomusicology professor Dr. Fredara Hadley, and music directoress of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church and CEO of Next Step Associates, Dr. Cassandra Jones, plus a spotlight interview with Andrea Custis (CEO, Urban League Philadelphia). 

In this episode, Dr. Jones laments the last-minute exclusion of Total Praise from the MLK Tribute concert. This omission was the result of COVID-related complications that made the CAPA choir unavailable to perform as planned and not due to a lack of interest. The Philadelphia Orchestra looks forward to including the piece next year.

TORI MARCHIONY (Voiceover): You are listening to a special live episode of the HearTOGETHER podcast recorded on January 17th, 2022 as part of The Philadelphia Orchestra's annual day of free community programming in observance of Martin Luther King Jr day. Thanks to our guests, Andrea Custis, Dr. Fedara Hadley, Michelle Cann and Dr. Cassandra Jones for joining us in person at the Kimmel Center and sharing their thoughts on what it will take to get us From Programming to Progress.

TORI MARCHIONY: Hello, hello and welcome!  Welcome to the first live recording of the HearTOGETHER podcast. There we go. Welcome to the first live recording of the HearTOGETHER podcast brought to you by The Philadelphia Orchestra. I'm Tori Marchiony, and this is a space for honest conversations about music, social justice, and all the life in between. Since October of 2020, we've been releasing one episode a month, usually focusing on a single artist, academic or activist, who's working to create a more equitable future inside and outside the concert hall today. We're so excited to have four incredible trailblazing women for you to hear from. So let's dive right in. Please join me in welcoming our first guest President and CEO of the Urban League of Philadelphia, Andrea Custis.

ANDREA CUSTIS: Okay. So was it morning or afternoon?

TORI MARCHIONY: Who can tell it's so gray a beautiful day to be alive.

ANDREA CUSTIS: Okay, good morning.

TORI MARCHIONY: So Andrea, the first thing I wanna ask is what are you doing? Running the Urban League of Philadelphia. You retired from, uh, Verizon in 2011, I believe


TORI MARCHIONY: Then took on another high pressure role. So what, what drew you out of retirement to take this on? And what do you do with the Urban League?

ANDREA CUSTIS: So two things, first of all, I, for some reason I couldn't get that word retired in my head. People would ask me, “what are you doing now?” And I would go, oh, da, da, I couldn't use that word retired for people who know me, I have such passion and such energy. And I knew there was more. And if I can just give you a quick story, Ivan Steinberg, who was the chairman of Verizon at the time said, “I wanna be the last one to see you when you walk out the door and this is in 2011 and he said, what do you wanna do?” I said, “I have no idea.” And that's not like me. Anybody knows me, that that is not like me. I said, “I have no idea. I don't know what I wanna do.” He said, “do me a favor.” He said, “please take my advice. Do not do anything until you decide what that is.” And he said, “trust me, you will know when that time comes.” So I had several people who asked me if I would consider, um, putting my hat in the ring for the President and CEO of the Urban League. And I thought about it. And I, I knew, I know this from a spiritual, from faith, from who I am. I knew that there was an urgent need in this city, in this state and in the United States for what I consider dedicated and courageous leaders and leaders who speak up. And that is the definition of me. And so it's an honor. It is an honor. It is my pleasure to serve the Black community and those who are underserved. So let me just take a minute and tell you what we do. Um, what we do is we advocate for social justice and economic empowerment, and we do that by providing direct services. So we provide direct services in education, workforce, housing, small business, and health and wellness.


Wow. So worthy work. And they're lucky to have you, I can definitely say, uh, can you give me a little info of about your path to here, because I know you, you started out as a, a psych major, I believe, and then ended up as a, a COO and president at Verizon and, and now this next chapter. So yeah. What, what, what's the through line for you? 

ANDREA CUSTIS: So Th this is interesting and I don't know how true it is, but I have a lot of friends who they majored in, so, but they're not working in that area. And I think more than what we know, and I especially had a lot of friends that think about the money and time that became lawyers, and then they never worked and, and wasn’t a lawyer. So for me, um, I majored in counseling, um, psychology at University of Penn and what I wanted to be, and this, this is my love for education. I wanted to be a school psychologist and why? Because I thought we gave tests and especially to young Black kids, and we label them after that. And we put that label on them and it stays on them. For instance, there's just real quick, there's a, um, an exercise you do. And it helps to define who they are and what their cognitive skills are and what they know it's called the house tree person. Well, tell me if you were living in the projects or if you were living in poverty, where do you get to draw a tree with a branch and a little piece for a squirrel and a beautiful house with a smoke stack and smoke coming out and windows indoors? And so I knew I wanted to be a school, um, psychologist. And then I met a gentleman who was my mentor for the 32 years. I was in Verizon. He was a mentor for me at work, personally, his name is Bruce Gordon. And if you look up Bruce Gordon, as the kids say, he's a bad, bad boy, he is simply amazing. Um, and, uh, just very much of a giver and also taught all of us in Verizon. We almost competed, that our jobs and all of us were to lift the Black folks up and help climb that ladder and to develop and to train individuals. So that is the environment that I came from. So I, I happened to come in there and then I went into HR. And then from there, I was in different departments, operations, marketing. I had, um, a very quick move as I went up the corporate ladder. And that's because, uh, and it's not good. You don't ever want to be it. I'm a little bit of a workaholic. And, um, it's all about performance and it's about being the best that you can, it's taking your best and making it better. And it's also about work really hard, but having lots of fun and loving each other as a team and it worked out and, um, I'm fortunate. I became, um, a president in Verizon.

TORI MARCHIONY: Wow. See, when you say it like that, it all makes perfect sense when you read it on the resume. You're like, how did those things go together? Awesome. Um, so the theme of our conversation today is MLK's Dream versus quote unquote, “the American Dream”. And I realized, as I was thinking about it, that I have a really particular, probably 1950s vision of what the American Dream is. Um, and I'm curious what the American Dream is for you. And if it is in any way different from MLK's dream, or if they're totally compatible?

ANDREA CUSTIS: Thank you for asking. So for all of you listeners who were students of history, I took a moment, although I had my own definition of the American Dream to look it up. And it says the American Dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what their class that they were born into can attain success in a society in which upward mobility is possible for everyone. And that is the American Dream. The American Dream really came out like, think about it a long time. When our founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence in the Declaration of Independence, it says all men are created equal and that we have a right to life and Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So the American Dream includes all of us, no matter who we are, no matter where we come from. And let's think about probably the most well known and the most beautiful quote from Dr.Martin Luther king. He said, I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in, live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. So when you look at Dr. King's dream and you look at the American Dream, they are the same. What has happened though, Tori is when you look back on January the sixth, last year, you saw something that I'm never surprised. I could not believe it. I could not believe that I saw white men and white women climbing the capital, the capital of the United States of America. That was an attack on our democracy. So for those individuals, the American Dream does not include me. It includes you, but it does not include me and others of color. So that was a, an attack on our democracy. And so for them, it's not. And what I would say to you about them, they are people in corporate America, they are people who are legislators. They are people in your fair, they are people in your neighborhood. These are people that we live among that don't believe that I am part of that democracy and that this is my country.

TORI MARCHIONY: Hmm. Thank you. And a lot of those people, I would say, uh, probably believe in this, this sort of colorblind utopia as, as part of the American Dream where it's like, well, if it is going to include a diversity of individuals, just make sure that they're being as white as possible. Make sure that they're, they're not cha they're not bringing any like tangible diversity or, or discomfort into to our equation. Um, and I'm curious if that sort of colorblind rhetoric came up for you at all during your, uh, time in academia and corporate America. If, if that ever challenged your own sense of the humanity or self that you were able to bring into those spaces.

ANDREA CUSTIS: So interesting that you would say that, um, when I was at university at the him, my best girlfriend was a young Black female from Brown University. I said to her “boy, I wish one day I was as smart, as intelligent as you.” And she said the same thing, uh, Maddy Willis was, um, a pleasure and a joy. And I thank God that I spent the time. We would learn theories that the University of Penn would teach. And we got that, but understand we're dealing with all types of people that come in there with their views, people that look like you that said, they believe that Black people are genetically inferior. They believe that Black people are genetically inferior. So she would, and I would do all of the research that we would go about doing, to show here's what Alvin Pusan said. Here's what Dr. Soandso said. So besides the regular learning, we would come in with the additional learning to prove how, how crazy and had to stay calm as we would do that academic dialogue. So that's an example of how you meet all types of people that also happens in corporate America and what is sad and it's happened way back, but it all so happens now is that when you think about some of the sacrifices that Black people have to make to climb that ladder, it's sad. For instance, men have been told to shave that, um, uh, beard and shave that hair off your face, because there have been white men who are intimidated by it and scared by it, Black women. And if this even happened last year, Dove the soap in the manufacturer, they came to, um, New York and at the national headquarters and all of us were there and they asked us to sign on, we still have corporations and we still have companies wear if I wanna wear dreads, or if I wanna wear plats, or if I wanna have, um, an Afro that is not acceptable, because why I'm supposed to look like you, Tori, I'm the, I I'm, I'm supposed to be in your likeness, or if I'm a man I'm supposed to be in their likeness. So yes, there are sacrifices that young Black men and women have had to make and still make it has gotten better, but yes, they still have to, it gets into behavior, speech. I remember one time real quick that one of my bosses and I loved him dearly. I won't say his name, cuz he could be listening. I love, I loved him dearly. And he said to me, “you just have too much. It's just way too much.” He was talking about my passion. And so I said, “oh, so I'm too expressive because you're not expressive at all. And in fact you're dull when you speak, that's the honest to God truth. You're dull. Like I need some energy. Where's the energy, where's the passion? So you want me to change myself? So you want me to bring it down by a few decibels?” I might bring it down by one, but when I'm ready to show that passion and I go or whatever, I'm going to do that. And I guess you'll have to live with it.

TORI MARCHIONY: Bless you as you should. Yeah. And so speaking of, sort of some of the, the progress and then backs, slides that we've seen recently, I'm curious what your dream for the future is and what you believe you will be able to see in your life in terms of progress towards racial equity.

ANDREA CUSTIS: Let me give you this one. Um, when you work every day with people who people have abused and not given an opportunity, it is, um, difficult work. So let me tell you what my dream is is that every little girl and every little boy that looks like me has an opportunity to work to their full potential, to be so successful. And that's when I'm talking about education, right? Education, that they have the same opportunity that your little niece has. They get the same opportunity in terms of subjects and experiences that are available in school. And that's not the case now. So that's my dream for my babies, that that happens for them workforce, that people who don't have some of the skills and competencies that we invest in them for training and development. And we make sure that they have an opportunity to have family sustaining wages and of position and those that have those skills and competencies that are in corporate America, in nonprofit, the people identify them and give them an opportunity for that senior management position for that board position that they're able to do that nest workforce.

My other is housing. That every, uh, individual who looks like me has an opportunity to buy an affordable house in a safe neighborhood. They deserve a safe neighborhood. And my next one is for small business, 44% of small businesses in America shuttered. And they, they stopped. They went away during the pandemic compared to 17% of white businesses. So my dream is that if you're starting a business or you're growing a business, that you are able to get the capital that people invest in, you, they see your business plan. We do, they see your marketing plan and they see your character who you are and that they're able to get that capital. That's the only thing that keeps them back. 

And then my last, my last one is health and wellness. The fact that we're up here and I'm talking to you with a mask, I pray and really mean that I pray that we educate people, that they really understand the seriousness of what we are going through or that they're serious about immunization and they immunize their babies. So when it comes to health and wellness, that we are educated and we, and do the right thing for Black people, we have a high level of heart disease. We have a high level, my own brother died of diabetes. So there's so many illnesses that we have. And that's why we were two times likely to die during COVID because you put us in frontline jobs and we have these conditions that were coming and three times likely to have a case. So I pray for that. 

And then my last very last, and it's a, it's a request is that there have been 11 states have been passed who have passed voter suppression bills in 1965. We had the voting bill. I pray that somehow in the Senate that we get through John Lewis's voting act and that people stop trying to suppress the vote. I want EV- every individual, I don't care what color you are. I don't care that you de that you work in this democracy that you participate and that we hear your voice by you voting. So I pray for that. I right now in the city for Martin Luther king day, my organization is that three sites, whether it's raining or not, we registering people to vote. That's how we, that's how we participate in our democracy. So thank you so much, Tori for asking me. Thank you.

TORI MARCHIONY:  Thank you so much for being here. And that is a dream for the future that I can really get behind. That makes me feel like that's an American dream I wanna work for too. So it's thank you so so much. Thank You. Thank you so much. Enjoy the rest of your day. 

ANDREA CUSTIS: All righty. Thank, thank you. 

TORI MARCHIONY: Ooh, She's awesome. Uh, all right, so now we're gonna get into our panel discussion, which is called from Programming to Progress. And the reason that we chose this title is because programming is a wonderful, tangible first step towards, well, progress, but no single event alone can itself constitute progress. So even though there's an awesome concert scheduled for later today, The Philadelphia Orchestra really wants to keep pushing these conversations forward and acknowledging that it's not about checking a box it's about addressing problems and enacting solutions. So that's why I'm so grateful today for our panelists who are going to share their time, wisdom and honest experiences with us. Please welcome our first panelists pianist. Michelle Cann.

MICHELLE CANN:  Thank you so much.

TORI MARCHIONY: Thank you so much for being here. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and also the piece in the program this afternoon you're most looking forward to and why?


Absolutely. So, um, yes, I am a pianist. Um, also a teacher, uh, I'm also a music director at, uh, the first Baptist church here in Philadelphia. So I wear many hats, but definitely, uh, the most as a pianist. Um, currently I am the Eleanor Sokoloff chair in piano studies at the Curtis Institute of Music right down the road. Um, but I, I divide my time between, um, teaching responsibilities there. Uh, and I concertize a lot, so I'm on the road a lot. Well, a lot less right now, the way things are, but definitely still, uh, traveling. Uh, I do solo recitals. I play with, um, uh, various orchestras and, uh, also my, uh, sister is a pianist and I sometimes do two piano concerts with her. Oh, I didn't know that. Very cool. Awesome. Um, and so the other question, yes. About, uh, um, favorite piece on the program. Um, and that, that, wasn't an easy question because, uh, I'm really excited about the program today. Uh, it's a really nice variety. I love Valerie Coleman as a composer. You're going to hear her Seven O'Clock Shout and, um, also, uh, Carlos Simon's piece and at these are favorite composers of mine. And, um, so I had to really think what to say to that, but I'm choosing, uh, Florence Price’s, Symphony, uh, an E minor, just because, um, for those that may know this about me, I'm a huge advocate for Florence Price and her music. 

She was a pianist and composer, uh, just very strong genius Black woman that, uh, wrote this, uh, symphony in, uh, the early 1930s. And, um, I absolutely just, I love all her music. Uh, the first thing I discovered was her piano concerto, but, um, then when I was looking into this symphony, it's, it's powerful part of her life story because it, um, she won the top prize in the Wannamaker music competition. And with that, when she was able to have it premiered with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and she made history that that night, uh, that premier made her the first African American woman to have a, um, major symphonic work performed by a major symphony. And, and that in and in and of itself was just amazing. 

Um, but the piece itself, you're going to hear the third and fourth movement. Uh, I encourage you to listen to the whole symphony, but, um, it's such a great, it's such a great representation of her, her style and, uh, all the things she loved because in the symphony you hear, uh, connections in, in the first movement, especially to spirituals. And, um, they're originally written by her, but they're completely reminiscent of, um, spirituals that many, many of us know. And of course that's so, so important to the, uh, really African American experience, um, through all our time here. And then what you will hear is the Juba dance. And this is such a really fun it's, it's a really fun dance it's it's it's history is actually from, uh, from Africa and then it was popularized in the south during slavery times, but it's really, um, uh, kind of reminiscent of rack time, a little bit and other things and Florence Price loved it. So it's in the symphony, but it's also in a lot of her major works for chamber and piano it's she just loves using this style. Um, and, and then the fourth movement actually is kind of a mix of a lot of styles, but for her, she just really connected to the romantic culture. I would say really the, the romantic period of classical music. She really keyed into that as much as she then also, uh, pulled from her own experience and culture. That was huge for her. So all over music, you're hearing Black folk music and, you know, from dances to spiritual, to church music. Um, to me, it's just so inspiring that somebody that amazing, uh, her whole life cared about her own culture. Um, even though she was writing in a world of classical music at the time that didn't really accept her because of her race. So absolutely that she, she did not get as far as she should have during her life. 

TORI MARCHIONY: And it's especially great to see her sort of getting her due now because it is so deserved. She's brilliant.

MICHELLE CANN: Absolutely. 

TORI MARCHIONY: Thank you. So I'm really looking forward to the rest of this conversation. Uh, let's bring out our next panelist, Dr. Fedara Hadley, ethno musicology professor at the Juilliard school And Dr. Hadley, same question for you. Just tell us a little bit about yourself and what you're most looking forward to in the program this afternoon.

DR. FREDARA HADLEY: Um, first of all, good afternoon, I'm super excited to be here and to be on the panel with first, the conversation that you all had before and now the convers we're having now, um, I'm an ethnomusicologist. I teach about music, the intersections of music and culture, how music shapes culture, and all of those things, um, at the Juilliard School. And so I teach courses on, my area of research is African American music. So I teach courses on African American music and sort of what ethnomusicology is. Um, and my research is really all about the musical legacies and trajectories of HBCUs and, um, those lineages, because you would think that that story has been told, but it has not, anywhere. And so many of the composers that we talk about, especially historically, either graduated from historically Black colleges, or you, you were talking about Florence Price earlier, who taught at Clark College which is now Clark Atlanta University.

Um, and, and these rich relationships, both in classical music and other genres. And so, um, that's my research area where I focus on. And so, um, I'm gonna cheat a little bit. And the piece that I'm most excited about hearing is actually the Valerie Coleman piece, because I just love her. And, um, when I watched the recording of this piece, um, Seven O'Clock Shout, it just gave me chills. And in general, she writes with such, um, P P palpable emotion. That is so, um, I don't know, just reaching and, and really pulls you into what she's doing, compositionally and harmonically, especially. Um, and I love the way that she literally brings in the shout in, in the latter half of the piece, but the title to me also signals to, um, African American culture in the sense that shout is a term that comes from Black church culture, which is a dance, right, like when people are overcome by spirit, um, and, and African American worship service, that person is shouting. And so that sort of double play, and I don't know if it was conscious on her part, but for me, both in what she's doing and how the piece build towards this climax takes me back to that place, as well as, um, affirms, uh, the explicit mission of the piece to acknowledge how we were gathering, uh, in 2020, at 7:00 PM to cheer on frontline workers and to acknowledge the, um, the work, the invaluable work that they were doing. And so all of those resonances come forward and how she writes the piece and I'm, and one of the things about Black composers in general, like I, I teach symphony number one and a lot of these pieces, but it's still it's. It is growing increasingly rare, but it's still a treat to be able to hear them live and hear them programmed. And I tell my students all the time when we have these question about the cannon, how you get into the cannon is through repetition and people performing your work in different avenues and opportunity and the work being publishable and available.

And the question is never, are there, um, pieces by Black composers? That's never the question ever. The question is where is the break in the pipeline that a allows those Black composers to be heard? Right. And so, um, I'm, I'm thrilled. Um, I don't think I've heard most of these pieces, um, performed in person. So the whole program is exciting. And one quick note to bring a full circle, um, lift every voice and saying written by James will and Johnson and Rosemont Johnson again, um, the James Wilson and Johnson graduated from Clark college and H B C U alum alumnus, and, uh, was really influential in shaping how we thought about black music in the early 20th century when he taught at fifth university, another H B, C U. And one of the powerful things about lift every voice and sing is that is something that the NAACP and Black people decided this is going to be our, you know, Black national Anthem. And it is, um, a really important reminder of self articulation, um, and in music and in song and all of it's beautiful arrangements, um, that have been done since. So

TORI MARCHIONY:  Thank you. I'm, I'm so glad I, I asked because you both just told me so much more than I knew about the program. I'm getting really, really excited. Thank you. Uh, and let's bring out our final panelist, Dr. Cassandra Jones, Music Directoress of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church.


TORI MARCHIONY:  All right, Dr. Jones, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you're looking forward to this afternoon.

DR. CASSANDRA JONES:  My name is Cassandra Jones. I am, am the Senior Directoress of Music at the Enon Tabernacle Baptist church, where Dr. Allen Wilder is the senior pastor, as well as the administrator for music and arts. I am also the CEO for Next Step Associates, which is an organization that we focus on developing the next generation of culturally conscious leaders by focusing on developing leadership skills and management effectiveness. We love what we do. And when we look at the landscape of what we are seeing today, we know that we have to start to build more leaders and we've taken that on. And then through education prior to retiring, I served as the chief academic officer for the Baltimore city public school system, and then for a year here in Philadelphia.

TORI MARCHIONY:  Awesome. Thank you. And was there a piece that you're

DR. CASSANDRA JONES:  My piece? Yeah, so I listened to all of it and love loved it, and then got very quiet because I didn't see a true gospel piece. And many times gospel music is eliminated from this conversation. So the piece that I would like to share is Total Praise, Richard Smallwood, listening to the strings, the percussion, the music that is so beautifully woven together to tell the story as you've heard, but then the words, “Lord, I will lift my eyes to the Hills from, with, come with my help. You are the source of my strength. You are the strength of my life. I lift my hands in total, pray peace to you” that, that song with the words and the music comes together in such a magnificent way and the message of peace and harmony and knowing where your help comes from makes it. I could not eliminate that from this conversation. When you look at the wide range of music that you will hear, I would love to hear The Philadelphia Orchestra do Total Praise. It would certainly be amazing,

TORI MARCHIONY: Bet they're gonna do it next year. 

DR. CASSANDRA JONES: Yeah, exactly.

TORI MARCHIONY: So actually I think this is a, a cool place to dive in because one thing that I think we tend to forget in conversations about Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, is the Reverend part and that a huge part of his power as a, as a speaker and an organizer came from, uh, from the, the church sort of context. And also so the, uh, the faith and, and sort of spirituality to sustain the movement. And so I'm curious, um, For each of you, is spirituality an essential component of this kind of work towards building a better future. And if so, why Cassandra? You wanna start us off?

DR. CASSANDRA JONES:  Absolutely, absolutely. Your faith and your foundation is what will sustain you. It is what will drive you. It is what will keep you going when you think you can't go anymore, we can do better. We have to do better. When we think about the faith that you have, my faith is in God. I don't, um, make any bones about that. I believe when you heard Reverend King talk about that, it was woven through everything that he did that love for humanity. The love for justice, the love that would drive you when you saw justice, that love that would have you keep going. When you didn't think you could go any further. And his foundation, he was very clear was that his love for God. And he worked, God is not a genie. You can't rub him and say, make it go away God, but he will give you direction. And when he gives you direction, he will show you exactly what to do. Reverend Martin Luther King, you saw that in everything he did, the way that he approached everything and he was consistent.

DR. FREDARA HADLEY:  Yeah, I would add to that. Um, everything you said is right, and I would only add to that by saying that when we think about Reverend Martin Luther King and how central faith was to everything that he did, and I encourage people to read his collection of essays, strength, to love, which are just still to me, very, um, re evolutionary and beautiful in their writing and, and the ideals expressed and the critiques that he levies at, um, mainstream and white Christianity in it as well. But when we're talking about Black Christianity in this, in particular, ever since the, since enslavement Black Christianity has had to be and has been liberatory. And so there's no, um, it's not a coincidence that people like Nat Turner, people who led slave uprisings, Nat Turner, [], Harriet Tubman, um, SU her truth as an abolitionist were so deeply rooted in spirituality and Christianity as they interpreted it, not as it was preached to them and brought to them by white ministers.

And so when we are thinking about Martin Luther King, he's in that lineage that has been, um, here since the, or origins of Black Christianity in the United States, and now site James, the theologian and James Cohen and calling it Black liberation theology. And, and it's a large part of the reason why churches remain so segregated even today because Black churches and Black theology has always needed to be connected to social justice and liberation in really profound ways. So there's that side of it. The other side of it is, and I'm just thinking about this now. Um, my parents both graduated from segregated high schools, and I was visiting with them over the holidays. And their pastor was a man by the name of Reverend CK Steel, who was the second vice president of the Southern leadership, Southern Christian leader at conference. Yeah. I was like council conference conference that Martin Luther King founded and led. And what's important about that. My mom was telling me about the bus boycott that happened in Tallahassee when they were in college led by FAMU students and Reverend CK Steel, um, who was pastor then the Bethel Baptist. The church also gave Baptist church a in particular also gave him an important organizing foundation. He could tap into the network of preachers and churches to coordinate all of these different local efforts that were happening during this period. Much like the church was an essential part of these nodes of churches to were an central part of the underground railroad during enslavement, right? 

Because they are one of the, um, closest that we get to Black autonomous spaces in the United States. And so both on the tactical side, it's no, it's no joke. It's no surprise that the civil rights movement was really carried out by Black churches and H B EU students, right? And so on the tactical side, and on the theological side, we see those things come together and how, and, and really be this source, this wellspring, and this Haven for Martin Luther King, as he does, and, you know, participates in this work. That to me still seems unimaginable, the, the odds, the threat, the violence, all of it. And so those two pieces come, come into focus most strongly for me.

TORI MARCHIONY:  Wow. Thank you, Michelle. Did you wanna answer this one too? 

MICHELLE CANN: No, I don't. That was great. 

TORI MARCHIONY: All right. Respect it. That was very, very powerful. Thank you. So we'll start with you on this one then Michelle. So tell us, uh, music in general, it's important in your personal life. Like why, why you chose this life in music, why probably you couldn't choose anything else, perhaps, uh, and your observations about the importance of music in social movements.

MICHELLE CANN: Absolutely. And I think again, so many of these things relate as the quite, that was asked earlier about how, um, faith and, you know, spirituality, uh, was connected to these, to social justice as well. And that was a huge aspect, but at the same time music that, you know, and again, she's talking about total praise and even the words of, of hope. And, and I think about, um, even Florence Price who I mentioned, which will be on the, the program I spoke of spirituals and how that's, you know, infused in the symphony and also, uh, the second movement of the symphony, which you won't hear today, but it has, um, it's absolutely based on, on, on, on hymns, you that are song in the church. Um, actually I, every time I hear that I hear praise to the Lord, the almighty and king of creation.

That's what I hear every single time. First time I heard it, I said, isn't that praise to the Lord. And, and a lot of people agreed if you knew, cuz I grew up singing these songs. So, and I believe very much that I probably was her inspiration. She heard these H she was in the church. So anyway, to make a point to say that, you know, it's, it's interesting, cuz if you're, if you're looking at, from a point of view of someone who, um, who's not Christian, right, or, you know, has a different faith or know, uh, religion that they, that they identify with the themselves with at all, well, what is, is the thing that is unifying, right? Well, one thing that is unifying is music. Another thing is, as you mentioned, just wanting the good for humanity, right? Um, wanting to strive for that kind of connection and goodness, which is in the case of Dr.Martin Luther King and many other Florence Price and others to, to their, their faith, to the church. Right. So it's interesting when you look at it from the other side. So if you're looking at it from music, you can look at it from music that's in the church, spirituals themselves, hymns that especially sung by Black Americans from, you know, slavery through now probably into the future that are definitely words of hope. And, um, that, and this is so important, but if you take it out of the church and you're saying, or even music without words, right. I think that, um, what is, what is the one thing that we all really wanna feel or feel is the word when, when listening to music of any kind, we wanna feel something right. And we wanna feel what good we wanna feel good. Even if the music is, uh, music that brings tears to our eyes.

And so you could say, oh, this music was so sad, but it's just the experience. Being able to even experience that motion by listening to music brings, um, if it's sadness or whatever it is, we still feel good, cuz we're able to feel just by experiencing the music. And then as you're speaking to go really back into, as you say, social justice, I look at it really just to say that music really brings us together and it gets us if we let it to be honest, to really be honest for us, with our emotions, with, um, our expression, as you asked us, what was our favorite pieces? And there was, you know, each of us kind of had our own personal connection to a piece. And if you ask somebody else the same question, the same three pieces, they would say something a little different, but it's how it connected to us.

So we are may when we come and hear a concert or listen to anything, um, on the radio or what have you, we are made to feel something and experience something. And then if we are listening together, we can share in that experience and that brings people together. So anything that brings people together in a way that's good is on another side a way to then say, “Hey, we're coming together through music, we're connecting, we're bonding. We're all really the same. Do you know what I mean? And so then it can be a way to translate that I wish we would do this more often, translate that into life and into saying that, why is it that we can all sit in here and listen to, you know, this music and as human beings experience it together and, and, and talk about those feelings or whatever it is.

But then especially thinking of times back when there were orchestra concerts and Black or any jazz, whatever, and Black musicians could be on the stage giving you the music, but Black people couldn't be in the audience listening to it. What did that ever make? Right? Because at the end of the day, the, the musicians on the stage and the people in the audience were experiencing it together. You were okay, listening to music from Black artists, experiencing their take on it because it's their interpretation. You were literally sharing in their moment, but you didn't want anybody else sitting next to you that was Black sharing in that it, it never made any sense to me. And so thinking of that now, it's like, to me, it's a powerful tool because it always brought people together. And it's an example and, and it can be used as one really to say that, um, if we can experience this together and really get honest with who we are and how you know, and our feelings, then why can't we do this outside of, of the concert hall, outside of the stage?

TORI MARCHIONY:  Absolutely. And it's funny, there, there is so much to talk about and engage with mentally when it comes to music, but, but the experiencing below the neck of music is so human and so unifying and is just a great way to like get us out of our own way, outta all the BS that we have going on up here and drop into something else. Would either of you like to share your take?


Just really quickly when I was listening to your remarks, it made me think of, um, like a me, my, myself going around on social media, maybe. Um, it's, it's, it's sad. I can't remember which killing of which Black person it was, but one of them, um, uh, it said, I wished America loved Black people. Like it loves Black culture or Black music. And to me that really encapsulates what you're saying, American music has been Black music. You can go back from minstrelsy all the way to today where hip-hop is ubiquitous in a lot, in a lot of different ways. But like, um, that, that recognition of, um, how or brilliance doesn't always come with recognition of humanity. And that is a painful thing to have to just reckon with and see that it even is a thing. So when we're talking about social movements and music's role in it one, um, and I'm thinking about Bernice Johnson, Reagan who one of the most influential freedom singers of the civil rights era and the founder of a really brilliant group of acapella singers called Sweet Honey in the Rock.

And she's, um, thankfully still with us. But she, she, she, she was, she was in Albany, Georgia, you know, middle Georgia, not Atlanta. And she was talking about how this music, it needed to be participatory and it needed to be strong because you really had to fortify the spirits of the people because, you know, I can't, I was born in the late seventies. I've seen black and white footage and whatnot, but like no dogs were really coming. You know, like people were really gonna turn on these water hoses, this, this, this day danger wasn't imagined. It was very real. And so just to build some sort of collective to, to really draw strength from each other, the music was the vehicle for that, for people to go into battle. Like we talk about Martin Luther, they can't even say he was nonviolent. He absolutely was, but he courted violence, right? He strategically courted violence because he knew that was a language that America would understand. Right?

And so when you are trying to bring together people to send their children, their siblings out into that, to me, music is the only force strong enough to sort of, of, you know, really, uh, rally people. And, and it was, it was mainly like gospel music. And, and like, if you think of, we shall overcome, which is a part of, um, I'll overcome someday written by Charles Albert Tinley, which was a gospel him from like the late 19th century, you know, is no coincidence that, and, and a lot of, um, the, the songs, the freedom songs as we think of 'em are, um, adapted lyrics of spirituals, which you were talking about before. And so we, we really should put a lot more respect on spirituals names because not only do they formed the foundation of the music that people rallied around during the civil rights movement, but they also help black composers to find their compositional voice, um, uh, coming outta the 19th century into the 20th century, you talk about Florence Price and the role that hymns and, and spirituals play in the, in symphony, number one, as well as her, um, Negro folk songs and counterpoint repeated Black composers are looking to the musical mo motifs of spirituals to identify and articulate who they are as Black classical composers. And so, you know, it's just there everywhere we look once we know to look for it.

DR. CASSANDRA JONES: And I would dare say that I, I echo and affirm everything that you've heard. And, and I say to those who are listening, knowing this, because I don't think you heard something that was new. Maybe you didn't think about it, but then how do you take this and then do something out to deal with social justice to deal with, how do we, how do we start to address this? And I would like, for us to think about, let's stop apologizing for having music in schools, let's start real basic, like, oh, thank you. You restored a music teacher here and there. No, we know that this is a vehicle that when we talk about diversity and social justice and equity, and how do you get students involved and how do you start bridging these gaps? We have the proof, we have the research and we know that it works. And so what I would like to say is that today, how are you involved in the superintendent's search? That's something that's real that could start moving the needle, because there is a force here with our orchestra and with the Kimmel center, how are you getting involved in that conversation? They certainly have a lot of power, but how do you get involved? Making sure that that next person understands the power of music and how do you get involved with making sure that your voice is heard individually and collectively, I can't answer you that, but you can.

TORI MARCHIONY: Thank you. Woo. Woo. All of you. So my next question, and kind of the, the culmination here is I, I would love to know for each of you, what progress you have seen in your lifetime and what progress you would still like to see. So what is the let's acknowledge the progress and let's also acknowledge the shortcomings and what we still absolutely have to do, uh, who would like to begin? All right, Fredara on the spot-


I pull the short straw on this one. Uh, um, it's just really, um, I don't have a full answer, like a, a, a, a canned and tight answer to this, cuz again, I was just recently spending time with my parents and, um, who were in their late seventies and early eighties now. And my mom, you know, uh, shout to her Dr. Clara ES Hadley, who was the first, um, Black person to get a PhD from Florida State University in 1969, which is amazing. And so she has this really interesting vantage point and both she and my dad, first generation college students, my dad, um, was born in 1945 on the same plantation where his ancestors were enslaved in Florida, like grew up on that plantation land, right? So these histories aren't far and obviously, but, but the, the, the conflict or what I'm working to just understand better is, and talking to my mother, she's very candid now about, um, how she, not just her, but her and her peers raised our generation and she is concerned, um, for us.

And she's concerned about the world and she's concerned, um, because coming out of the civil rights era, really grateful for the gains that they did get landmark civil rights legislation, the Voting Rights Act, all of that. Um, and, uh, you know, my mother was able to go to Florida State all of that. And she is reckoning now with what that did give us and what that did not give us. And she's just like, you know, some of it that they learned from that era, she's like we were, so they, or I'm speaking, I'm quoting her. Now. She talks about how they were so excited about the opportunity is that she, that she feels like her generation did not instill enough of what Andrea Cusits was talking about in terms of like being responsible for community in general. And that opportunities aren't just for you, but they're for community.

And, you know, it's, it is it's individual, like the answer to that is individual, but also that's kind of the problem that the answer to that is individual. And so, um, and they also really pushed us into white institutions and that comes with its own pluses and minuses. And so, you know, I, I hadn't really thought about it from that perspective before, cuz I'm just trying to live my life, which is exactly what my mother is critiquing. Right. Um, but, but, but, and so, you know, there has definitely been progress, but I have to say in the last year or so, um, I've really despondent at a lot of what's happened in the country. So much of what Black people have fought for in this country has just been for America to be what it says on paper, right? Like just do what you said in your documents.

You know, we’d be fine, but that isn't the reality of people's lives. And so, um, you know, uh, Andrea Custis was talking about, um, the January 6th. And so for me watching that on TV, I was just like, “oh, these people have been lying. It actually isn't about patriotism or this country at all. It's only about power” like that. They want to have and don't want to share, redefine or whatever. And so, um, I feel like we're just in the middle of it and I can't call how this story is gonna go. Um, and I don't say that with any kind of smugness, you know, I am, I see myself as fully American if anybody has a claim to America as who help to build it. And so, you know, I don't take any grief in that, but it's really, really disheartening. The, the extent to which people will go to ensure that America does not get better. I know that was like a real winding answer, but no,

TORI MARCHIONY:  No thank you. And, and as you talk about the sort of individualism of people being like, well, if I can make it, then that, that proves the, the sort of exceptionalism thing. Like, “well, if, if we can have a Black president, then racism's cured that kind of thing.” And I think that also really hearkens to the idea that like it's not just Black people's job to care for the Black collective. It is all of our job. It is as Americans to make sure that we're enacting what we said in our documents. Exactly. So thank you, Michelle, please.

MICHELLE CANN: Thank you. That, uh, you went in a different direction that no, but it was in, it was really powerful actually bringing it back to, you know, what at Andrea at the beginning. Um, and that's an interesting point. You, you just have me for a second thinking about what you, what you just said, getting us to a point that's just on the documents. So, you know, what does that say? And, um, I wanted to speak from a point of view, um, kind of in the music world and, you know, as a, uh, as a performer. Um, and I think for me, I mean, definitely, you know, especially if you ask me right now, um, looking at things that are going on in the country for, for musicians and, and then I would say, okay, so talking about what's good. And the progress that has been made is that you're seeing more opportunities, um, to showcase Black talent, uh, in music and, uh, putting, um, you know, qualified people in, in positions of power in, in certain organizations and seeing those changes, uh, in front of me, um, right now that that's encouraging.

Um, but then I have to bring that to, but what did it take to get there and, and why, and right. And that, that's actually really interesting, uh, point, even for me, because, you know, I I've said this a lot where I've, I've been I've my, a career has really taken off, but that was after George Floyd. If I can just say that. And I mean, I'll, but to be honest, and I, I remember saying to someone, I said, I've been playing the piano the same way all this time, but now somebody that, I mean, can, I don't know, you know, I mean it's, and at any rate, and that's not even, you know, that's one part of it. And, and, and another thing as you were talking about, which was interesting, um, with your mother during her time at what's changed and going into, as you said, white institutions.

Well, it's interesting cuz you know, for me, I didn't go to, um, oh, so far from it, I went to music conservatory, which, and you teach at Juilliard now. Um, I remember that growing up, my father's a music teacher, my sister's a pianist, everybody's musical in my family. And one part about that was that my parents and, and this is important to say too, my parents are both Caribbean, uh, ones from Jamaica, one's from Bermuda. And so their ancestors were not in America. And that actually is another conversation, right, because that experience, but that's actually a really fair point cuz sometimes people do like to say, well, why are, why do they seem to be doing well the whole time? I was like, well their father and mother weren't, you know, um, literally scared for their life, you know, at that time they, because it really is a different experience in certain ways.

When you grew up on islands and then came or anybody that came into the country. So for my parents, they came here for college. They came here to get educated. They had no, I remember my father told me this, he came from Bermuda and he said, I never, uh, had experienced really racism to the degree, to the degree that I experienced it. When I got here, I never felt really any limitations. Right. He grew up feeling like, well, if he wanted to achieve this, he could, he came to America to study. And I remember he told me and I was driving somewhere down in the south and this was like the early seventies. And um, I was at a gas station and people were giving me all these looks and I didn't understand it. And that was his first experience of not understanding. Why are you looking at me angrily?

Like I don't understand this. And so my parents raised us in a way that we didn't feel limitations better yet. They didn't even bother to we, I didn't feel that because I was Black that anybody would look at me differently as a child. It wasn't until I went to college and I looked around and there's hardly anybody there that look like me, no teachers that look like me. And then I remember one of the first questions I was asked was, “oh, you're here, you're a singer, right?” now on the surface. That seems very innocent. But it's not that kind of statement is, “Black people can sing and that's all you can do.” Why are you, you must be here to sing. Clearly. They didn't accept you here for anything else. And I remember thinking statements like this, just, I remember one person I played my first concert there and they said, “wow, I didn't” literally said, “I didn't think you'd be so good.”

And I literal said it, but they said it in a way that they felt was innocent, but I read right through it like, well, “why didn't you think I could?” Why would you question it? And so when I started to see that others were doubting me, it made me start to wonder if I should be doubting, you know, in this anyway. But to jump, to sort of finish the thought, I, I have this kind of experience going through college. And I remember finishing, okay, now I get to play with orchestras. Well, I'm studying with the same teachers at the same schools, but they're asking me to do Gershwin. That's it though. That's what that's jazzy. So you can do that. I said, wait, but I went to the same conservator. I studied Rachmaninoff too and Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and everybody else, I love the Rachmaninoff concerto. Can I play that? No Gershwin, you can play rock, come on over here. So, you know, and I started to notice these little, these little things that would happen and you start to what? Why is that? Right? So here we are. Yes, there is a lot. That's great. Now that's changing. But the, the question is, you know, again, what did it take to get there? Why did it have to be somebody died? And then people say out like they needed to make changes. Right. Um, you know, and anyway, to me, that's, that's a powerful point to say that, yes we are, there are good things happening, but we have to analyze why they're happening. What, you know, what, what brought us here. And then how could we change that for the future so that it's not just, uh, tokenism play in itself, out in, in music.

TORI MARCHIONY: Exactly. And, and in a conversation that we had before this, you were mentioning that there are organizations like the swings organization that exists to highlight, uh, artists of color, which is awesome. And God, I hope we don't need that in fifty more years because it's kind of a double edged sword of like, hello, you're the best in this category rather than you are phenomenal and you deserve to be on this stage, please play whatever you want. You know what I mean? So, so thank you.

DR. CASSANDRA JONES:  That was, again, I echo everything that you said so beautifully and so clearly, and I just want to add to that in the last five, six years, we've seen the ugliness of America. What we thought was gone. It has surfaced in such a way that we cannot be silent. Our children, my grandchildren depend on us to confront this and to make sure that we stay true to what's on the paper, the intention and the spirit of what has been written. And so we don't have a choice to shake our heads and say, oh, such a shame. We have to be active. Our parents many times shielded us because they saw the ugliness of America. And they wanted us to know that we could be better than our generation further shielded when I think of our children. But I thank God that my husband, from the time our children was young, they had to watch eyes on the prize because it tells the story.

Even though we are blessed and they are both extremely successful, they know where they come from and they know their commitment to community and how you pay it back and bring others with you. So yes, we've come a long way, but while the way to go is such a long way up, because the bottom line is, as we look around and I gotta look at that January 6th had that been, first of all, let me be clear. Black folk would not have even gotten that close. Oh no, I need to be clear. And so when we think about that, I thought about, what about my grandchildren? How do we turn this tide for them? We can't get tired. Marvin Gaye, What's Going On how many years ago? And you can go ahead and look at that. So we've gone. Yes, we've had accomplishments and we certainly celebrate them. But the ugliness that we have seen it is for us who don't buy into that to make a difference. And right now we're not the loudest voices. So we've gotta figure this thing out. We've got to be that voice that says not here no more, because we can do better. And we must.

TORI MARCHIONY:  Absolutely. That is amen. I hope that we all feel, uh, empowered and energized to go do that. As we leave this place, this space and go off into regular life, that this conversation goes with us, uh, into all that we do. Thank you all so, so much. I'm gonna give you a standing ovation. This has been HearTOGETHER live. Thank you all so much for being here. Have a great rest of your day. I hope you stick around for the concert.

TORI MARCHIONY (Voiceover): Thanks for listening to the HearTOGETHER podcast from The Philadelphia Orchestra. We'll be back next month with more stories about music, social justice, and all the life in between.