Daily Bow: Detroit Symphony Gift Honors Civil Rights Pioneer

Daily Bow LogoThe Detroit Symphony Orchestra, as the classical music representative of a city with a diverse and storied past, has long been an advocate for African-Americans in classical music. The DSO has been committed to highlighting the achievements of African-American performers and composers of the past, the present, and future through concert series, recordings, and a fellowship program that mentors young black artists. When board member Arthur Johnson passed away in November at the age of 85, the DSO lost one of the leading lights behind these initiatives, but the Detroit Symphony’s commitment to the African-American presence in classical music has not been diminished. In honor of Johnson, who was a leading civil rights pioneer in Detroit, fellow DSO board member William Pickard–together with the company he helms, the Global Automotive Alliance–has made a $500,000 endowment gift to the DSO to form the Arthur L. Johnson African-American Artist Fund.

The gift is not only a fitting and wonderful tribute to a man that Pickard describes as “an important force in my life and in the lives of many other people in Detroit,” it is a great contribution to the legacy that Johnson left at the Detroit Symphony. Johnson, in his tenure on the board of the Detroit Symphony, spearheaded the motion to create the Classical Roots concert series, which provided for an annual concert to celebrate the black musicians in classical music. The Classical Roots series continues today after beginning in the late 1970’s, and it served as an inspiration to many other major symphony orchestras–although the Detroit Symphony is the only one to incorporate the concerts into their main subscription series. This latest gift perfectly complements the DSO’s current work to bring African-American performers and composers to the forefront of classical music, will ensure that the DSO will be able to continue performing, commissioning and recording works by black composers and hiring black guest artists. In addition to Pickard’s lead gift, an additional $200,000 has been pledged to the Johnson fund by PVS Chemicals CEO Jim Nicholson, a former DSO board chairman. Together, the gift holds great promise for the DSO’s mission of bringing great African-American artists to light and building a stronger, more diverse future for classical music.

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