Big Blue Opera Initiatives at Tennessee State University
Founded in the fall of 2015, the Big Blue Opera Initiatives (BBOI) is an outreach, performance training, and fundraising program serving the vocal music community of Tennessee State University, the boarder HBCU landscape, and underserved communities. The aim is to promote, expose, and support deserving students and communities too often left out of quality performing arts opportunities in Nashville and around the country. Nashville Opera, ALIAS Chamber Ensemble, 105 Voices of History National HBCU Choir, Opera America, the National Museum of African American Music, the Colour of Music Festival, the Harry T. Burleigh Society and the Narnia Festival are among BBOI’s national partners. Through programing such as vocal masterclasses, artists residencies, career workshops, BBOI works to end the stereotypes of what opera and classical music are and who they are for and fiercely advocates for the compositions and creations by African Americans and other communities of color. We are committed to reclaiming agency of culture for people of color through forms of musical expression not always associated with such groups. Past guest artists include soprano Karen Slack and bass-baritone Soloman Howard (Metropolitan Opera), Maestro Keith Chambers (Dallas Opera and New Amsterdam Opera), soprano Donata Cucinotta (Indianapolis Opera), soprano Alfreda Burke of PBS’s Hallelujah Broadway, and tenor Rodrick Dixon of Cook, Dixon, and Young.
The International Florence Festival and The Big Blue Opera Initiatives presents
Songs from the Heart of a Woman: The Vocal Music of Florence Price
W. Crimm Singers
Picture it...North (pronounced Norf) Nashville, summer of 2018...a group of friends that just so happen to be vocalists of various backgrounds and experiences come together at the request of veteran music educator and opera singer, William G. Crimm for a Wakanda-themed Freedom School presentation. They had so much fun and vowed to get together more often. Thus, the W. Crimm Singers (A.K.A. The Wakanda Chorale) was born!
The W. Crimm Singers (aka Wakanda Chorale) is professional ensemble-in-residence of the Big Blue Opera Initiatives at Tennessee State University. As “Wakanda” suggests, they wholly embrace the music of the Black experience throughout the diaspora and every genre connected to it. A versatile ensemble, major emphasis is placed on the Negro Spiritual, African American operatic and concert repertoire, hymnody, and anthems. The W. Crimm Singers boosts a roster of over 70 artists. Moreover, this aggregation is committed to providing professional opportunities to young artists of color from area colleges and universities.
In their time together, the W. Crimm Singers has recorded and performed with Louis York (American Griots, 2019) , Stars Go Dim, Intersection Contemporary Music Ensemble, Hannibal Lokumbe, Rodrick Dixon, and been featured on 91Classical’s Live in Studio C and Bobby Jones Presents. In 2019, The group debuted in the Colour of Music Festival performing Dett’s The Chariot Jubilee under the baton of Dr. David Morrow and in 2020, presented Songs from the Heart of a Woman: The Vocal Music of Florence Price for the virtual International Florence Price Festival. Later that year, they were featured in Black Youth Project’s Virtual Juneteenth Celebration. Members of the W. Crimm Singers were featured soloist in Handel’s Messiah with Early Music City at the Music City Messiah Festival in December 2021, marking the first all-Black vocal cast performance of work in Nashville in over 25 years. They have been staples of the Harry T. Burleigh Spirituals Festival since 2018 and performed for the 54th and 55th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration at the National Civil Rights Museum. Most recently, the W. Crimm Singers contributed to Sir the Baptist and Tennessee State University Band’s Grammy Award winning album, The Urban Hymnal (2022).
Each individual truly is a force unto themselves so when they come together, brace yourselves!
Wondrous Grace: Celebrating 5 Years of the W. Crimm Singers
Harry T. Burleigh Spirituals Festival
First held in 2016, the Tennessee State University Music Department and the Big Blue Opera Initiatives has hosted the Harry T. Burleigh Spiritual Festival, recognizing the 150th birthday of the pioneering African American composer and arranger and celebrating the legacy of the American Negro spiritual. Each year, the Burleigh Festival focuses on a different area of the spiritual and African American music. The festival features panel discussions and lecture presentations led by prominent scholars and musicians, choral clinics for attendees of varying stations in study, a vocal masterclass focusing in performance practice and style of African American music, and a gala benefit concert in support of the Harry T. Burleigh Fund for Vocal Studies at Tennessee State University. In 2018, the Burleigh Festival Young Artists Program was established to train and present deserving, underserved Nashville area high school students in the areas of voice, musicianship, and African American music performance and history. Each year, the Burleigh Festival grows exponentially in attendance, partnerships, and support. The Festival is also draw for students from numerous colleges and universities and institutions. Notable guest artists and clinicians include soprano, Maestra Kelly Corcoran, Dr. Gale Robinson-Oturu, Dr. Brandon A. Boyd, contralto Gwendolyn Brown, soprano Makeda Hampton, and Maestra and composer Brittany Boykin.
Early Music City
One part Renaissance band, one part Baroque ensemble, celebrating the diverse traditions that make Nashville a great music town – that's EARLY MUSIC CITY. The group takes an historically-inspired, yet light-hearted and open-minded approach to programming, from Renaissance dances, Monteverdi, and Vivaldi, to Stephen Foster, Celtic reels, and spirituals.
Having existed as an informal “gathering of friends” since 2014, EARLY MUSIC CITY made its official debut in September, 2019 at the prestigious Courtyard Concert Series sponsored by the Nashville Public Library. Additional concert performances followed soon after in Bowling Green, Kentucky and Huntsville, Alabama. The group has been invited numerous times to perform on Nashville Public Radio’s “Live in Studio C,” including the show’s 20th anniversary celebration. Early Music America and The Metro Nashville Arts Commission have generously supported the ensemble’s performances. “Music City USA” has been a melting pot of fantastic music for over 200 years. EARLY MUSIC CITY delights in the great traditions of that music, extending back to western Europe, Africa, and Latin America.
For more information, visit https://www.earlymusiccity.org.
Facebook: Early Music City
From These Pews: A Celebration of Artistry from the Black Church
Premiered February 12, 2023, Nashville, TN
Presented by the Scarritt Bennett Center
Featuring the W. Crimm Singers
Professional Ensemble-in-Residence of the Big Blue Opera Initiatives at Tennessee State University
Patrick Dailey, Founder and Artistic Director
Journey through the various musical traditions of the Black church as well as the some of the notable performers that have come out of these sacred spaces. From concert works to soul classics and everything in between, experience the rich cadre of song reared in the African American worship experience performed by some of Nashville’s finest voices and instrumentalists.
The Sankofa Project: A Journey Through Black Music and Artistry
Premiered September 2022, Philadelphia, PA
Presented by St. Luke’s Episcopal- Germantown in conjunction with Price Fest and Opera Philadelphia
In the West African tradition, the Adinkra symbol of “Sankofa” depicts a bird with its head turned backwards while its feet face forward carrying a precious egg in its mouth. The word itself means “go back and fetch it” and is further understood as “looking back to move forward”. The Sankofa Project: A Journey Through Black Music and Artistry explores the rich tapestry of vocal music created by African Americans. Originally planned for Black Music Month, the program features music by and tributes to Black musical figures across genres such as Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions, Florence Price, and Margaret Bonds performed by five young HBCU alumni artists making major impact in the performing arts world. Along with the powerful music, audiences will be treated to the powerful stories of these legendary artists through narration and dramatic interpretation. The music and artistry of African people is much like that precious egg in the mouth of the bird, full of vitality and sustainable resources. In experiencing this program, all will be inspired by these pivotal artists of the past and determined to move forward in creating a brighter future for us all.
Of Gospel and Bach
Premiered June 2022, Harrisonburg, VA
Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival
The Gospel of Bach explores the musical relationship between one of western cultures most revered figures and the songs of enslaved Africans and their descendants. Though separated by land, sea, and language, these sounds are linked by faith, hope, and a devotion to life beyond its current state. Audiences are taken on journey that draws these connections across culture and time.
Tupac Song Project
Premiered November 2019, Nashville, TN
Harry T. Burleigh Spirituals Festival in partnership with Alias Chamber Ensemble and PacFest
The Tupac Song Project pairs the poetry of legendary and influential artist, Tupac Shakur, with music in the classical aesthetic. Revered for his role in hip-hop, Shakur was a brilliant, trained, well rounded artist in music, theater, and literary arts. The project seeks to shine a light on his full creative and cultural genius.
Dear Mother…Dear Sister…: Words and Music of Black Women to Black Women
Premiered March 2019, Columbus, MS
Music By Women Festival, Mississippi University for Women
The compositional voices of woman are too often unsung. However, the work of Black woman are heralded even less. Throughout the African Diaspora, Black Women are held as the bearers of culture and the music they create holds so much of the essence of a people. Presented by Black brother of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America, this program serves as a love letter in honor of the brilliance and strength of Black women.
To our mothers celebrated and unsung...to our sisters here and now...we hear you...