The Columbia Museum of Art announces the launch of More Than Rhythm: A Black Music Series, hosted by ethnomusicologist Dr. Birgitta Johnson and debuting Saturday, January 15, 2022, during closing weekend of 30 Americans. The series, which offers free admission for students, premieres with a sampling of diverse sacred choral textures that exist in the Black sacred music tradition.
Black music represents one of the oldest and broadest rivers that pours into America’s sonic ocean. Whether it be in pop or rock, classical or hip-hop, the history that the music of Black Americans affirms is key to its enduring popularity and influence across lines of race, gender, age, class, and even language.
More Than Rhythm: A Black Music Series aims to tell stories of that influence and celebrate the ways music has historically brought people together. This series takes concertgoers on a musical journey through several eras of Black musical expressions. Through live musical performances and intimate educational opportunities, audiences will find common ground and nurture a deep appreciation of Black music traditions.
“Black music has touched the social and cultural fabric of America for generations,” says Dr. Johnson. “The CMA’s More Than Rhythm series is an affirmation of that impact, and we look forward to celebrating with the community through a diverse array of concerts, conversations, and music-centric events.”
Over the next two years, the CMA and Dr. Johnson will explore different subjects, genres, and conversations. All experiences take place at the CMA and involve renowned musicians, cultural scholars, community discussion, and the celebration of Black music.
On Saturday, January 15, from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m., More Than Rhythm kicks off with The Heritage Celebration Chorale, an aggregation of choral music educators, enthusiasts, and vocal artists from the Carolinas and Georgia. Led by Dr. Tony McNeill, they offer a program of sacred choral works by Black composers that span several genres and include classical styles, spirituals, hymn arrangements, anthems, gospel, and music from the congregational song traditions of the Carolinas such as metered hymns, traditional and arranged prayer, and praise songs of the Black church. The audience becomes the choir during various sing-along opportunities throughout the concert.
Dr. Tony McNeill, affectionately known at “Dr. T.,” is a sought-after workshop clinician, lecturer, consultant, mentor, and guest choral conductor throughout the country. Dr. McNeill currently serves as director of choral activities and chair of the Department of Music at Clinton College in Rock Hill, SC. Prior to his appointment at Clinton College, he was a visiting professor and interim choral director at Texas Southern University. Dr. McNeill also served four and a half years as the director of worship and the arts at Atlanta’s Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, “America’s Freedom Church.” Dr. McNeill is a respected worship educator and consultant and participates as a member of the gospel recording group Donald Lawrence and The Tri-City Singers (SC/NC). He is the founder and curator of THE CALL 2 WORSHIP GROUP, an online community of musicians and clergy.
On Friday, April 29, the second program of the series focuses on America’s first global pop style in honor of Jazz Appreciation Month. Guest artist Mimi Jones speaks with Dr. Johnson and assistant professor of jazz at UofSC Dr. Colleen Clark about the vibrant roots and genre-merging futures of jazz before Jones and her band take the stage for a special performance.
On Friday, June 3, the third program of the series features SC Lowcountry native and consciousness-raising hip-hop artist Benny Starr. After a sit-down with Dr. Johnson, the recent US Water Alliance Artist-in-Residence performs with a full band to help celebrate Black Music Month. The night prior, the CMA will screen Benny Starr’s newest film project, Restoration: A Concert Film, presented by his hip-hop group, Native Son.
“Music, in any form, performed at the Columbia Museum of Art is one of the undiscovered treasures of Columbia, South Carolina,” says Frank Baker of the Baker & Baker Foundation, presenting sponsors of the series. “The Baker family is honored to support this wonderful series, and we look forward to greeting you at the upcoming events. And if you’re a student, it’s all FREE.”
Birgitta J. Johnson, Ph.D, is a jointly appointed associate professor of ethnomusicology in the School of Music and African American Studies Program at the University of South Carolina. Her research interests include music in African American churches, musical change and identity in Black popular music, and community archiving. She has published articles in the Black Music Research Journal, Ethnomusicology Forum, Liturgy, Oxford Bibliographies in African American Studies, and the Grove Dictionary of American Music.
Dr. Johnson’s most recent publications include a chapter about 21st-century gospel archiving in The Oxford Handbook of Musical Repatriation, a chapter about gospel remixes of Beyoncé songs in Beyoncé in the World: Making Meaning with Queen Bey in Troubled Times, and sacred themes in the music of Outkast in An OutKast Reader: Essays on Race, Gender, and the Postmodern South. She has been quoted or featured in media and news outlets such as Rolling Stone Magazine, NPR, Vox, Public Radio International, and South Carolina ETV.
A multi-instrumentalist and singer, Dr. Johnson has performed professionally and/or recorded with artists and ensembles from a variety of genres including the Southeast Symphony Orchestra of Metropolitan Los Angeles, the Gospel Music Workshop of America, Francisco Aguabella’s AfroCuban Folkloric Group, and the ESPY Awards with Justin Timberlake, The O’Jays, Yolanda Adams, Talib Kweli, and BeBe Winans. At UofSC she teaches courses on world music, hip-hop, the blues, African music, Black sacred music, Beyoncé, and the history of ethnomusicology.
Tickets: $20 / $10 for members / free for students. Galleries and bar open one hour before the concert.
Presented by the Baker & Baker Foundation. Programmatic support provided by the Friends of African American Art & Culture.
Jazz at the CMA is supported by the following sponsors: Gold Sponsors: Rick and Nancy Layman. Silver Sponsors: Barbara B. Boyd; Dr. and Mrs. Harold I. Friedman; Howard Gilman Foundation. Friends Sponsors: John and Mary Kessler; Becky and Earl Ellis; Friends of African American Art & Culture; Amy Sander Montanez; Mary Baskin-Waters and Samuel C. Waters; The Braddock Group of Janney Montgomery Scott LLC.
This program has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.
For more information, visit columbiamuseum.org.