Composers Featured During Black History Month

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A native of Wichita, KS, André Thomas grew up with a mother who sang in church.  His early exposure to church music ignited his passion for choral and instrumental music.  While an undergraduate student at Friends University, he sang under composer/singer/television personality Jester Hairston who exposed him to spirituals and gave him an understanding about singing in dialect.  He currently serves as the Director of Choral Activities and Professor of Choral Education at Florida State University.


Fela Sowande is considered “the Dean of Nigerian church music.”  A son of an Anglican priest, Sowande was trained in Western European music tradition while singing in the choir of the Cathedral Church of Christ in Lagos, Nigeria.  He was introduced to works in the Yoruba tradition, and while studying in London, became the leader of a jazz band, a theatre organist, and a duo-pianist with Fats Waller.  He came to the United States in the late 1960s to teach at Howard University and later at Kent State University.    

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Thomas Kerr was born in Baltimore and dreamed of attending the Peabody Conservatory of Music, but because Blacks were not allowed to enroll, he studied at Howard University for one year before transferring to the Eastman School of Music, where he earned degrees in piano performance and music theory.  He taught at Knoxville College and later at Howard University, while composing numerous pieces for organ, piano, voice, choir, and small ensembles.  He served as music director of Plymouth Congregational Church in Washington, DC, where he wrote his Suite Sebastienne for the dedication of their Rodgers organ.



Godwin Sadoh is a Nigerian organist, pianist, composer, ethnomusicologist, choral conductor, and prolific publishing scholar with over 100 publications including 12 books. Sadoh studied at the University of Pittsburgh, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Louisiana State University-Baton Rouge, where he earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree and became the first African to earn this degree in organ performance from any institution in the world.  He has been on the faculties of several US colleges and now lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

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Robert A. Harris received a B.S. and M.A. from Wayne State University in Detroit and his Ph.D. in theory and composition from Michigan State University. He has pursued post-doctoral studies in composition and conducting at the Eastman School of Music and the Aspen Music School in Aspen, Colorado. A recipient of numerous commissions, Harris’ choral works have received performances throughout the US, Europe, and South Africa. He has served on the of Wayne State University and served as Director of Choral Activities at Michigan State University, retiring as Professor of Conducting and Director of Choral Organizations at the School of Music at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

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Moses George Hogan  was best known for his settings of spirituals.   Hogan was a pianist, conductor, and arranger of international renown. His works are celebrated and performed by high school, college, church, community, and professional choirs today. His most famous work today is The Oxford Book of Spirituals created in 2002.

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Charlotte native, Jacqueline “Jacqui” Hairston, is an educator, composer, and performer.  She is known for being the cousin of actor/musician Jester Hairston, but Jacqui has made a name for herself for preserving spirituals, which she has arranged for notables such as Kathleen Battle.  Hairston has studied at the Juilliard School of Music, Howard University, and Columbia University.  Growing up at Charlotte’s Gethsemane AME Zion Church, Jacqui has served in many congregations both in Charlotte, in the San Francisco Bay Area, and in the Sacramento area.