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Honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Through Music

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Greg Glasgow

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Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis

In a musical celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, a group of students and one alumna from the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music will take the stage at Denver jazz club Dazzle on Monday night to play a selection of songs by black classical composers.

“Dazzle is very excited to host this concert both to shine a spotlight on some talented composers who are largely unknown and to increase black representation in the classical music world,” says Matt Rathkey, the club’s booking manager for classical music. “Not many people are familiar with the works of Florence Price, George Walker or Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, but they were all phenomenal composers, and their works deserve far more recognition.”

Florence Price
Florence Price

Violinist Ana Luna Uribe and violoncellist Katherine Smith, both graduate students, sophomore violinist Olasuyi Ige and violist Silvana Ferrarin, a Lamont alumna, have been rehearsing the string-quartet repertoire since early December. They are paying as much attention to the composers’ stories as they are to the notes on the page. Joseph de Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-George, for instance, was a French composer who, during the French Revolution, served in Europe’s first all-black regiment, while Price, born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1887, incorporated spirituals and folk music into many of her pieces. “Five Folksongs in Counterpoint,” the string quartet the DU players will perform, features her interpretations of “Calvary,” “Clementine,” “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes,” “Shortnin’ Bread” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

“We’re classically trained, and we take music history classes,” says Ferrarin, who worked with Rathkey to curate the pieces for the concert. “For most composers that we learn about, it’s a paragraph or two in a textbook and that’s all we get. To actually play these works and go through the process of learning why they wrote it and what was going on socioeconomically at the time is very interesting.”

George Walker
George Walker

Other composers featured in the Monday concert include ragtime pioneer Scott Joplin and jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, whose “At the Octoroon Balls” explores Creole life in New Orleans.  

Part of a regular Monday-night chamber-music series at Dazzle, the show is part of an effort by the club to spotlight student musicians. It’s an opportunity the Lamont players welcome as they prepare for their post-university careers.

“It’s pretty significant for us, especially as we’re student musicians and most of our performances are still evaluated and graded,” Ferrarin says. “So we’re doing something that’s not that. We’re just on the cusp of our own careers, and this is a great opportunity.”

Tribute to Black Classical Composers begins at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 20, at Dazzle, 1512 Curtis St. Tickets are $10–$25; visit for more information.