Seventh Annual Black History Month Concert

Praise the Duke!

Seventh Annual Black History Month Concert

Try to picture Duke Ellington speechless.

This pre-eminent composer, bandleader, arranger, and musical conceptualist – "possibly the foremost all-around musical figure of [the 20th] century," as Jay Trachtenberg noted in a 1999 Chronicle feature ("Beginning to See the Light," Music, April 30, 1999) – was never at a loss for words. Until, that is, an Episcopal cleric said that he wanted Ellington to compose a concert of sacred music to open a San Francisco cathedral.

Long pause. "What did you say?" Ellington asked. He was past 60 at the time and had spent his life in nightclubs and concert halls. It was not that he was without faith, but he had never been asked to create work for the church and probably never expected to be. Yet here was the invitation.

And so it was that in 1965 the Duke Ellington Orchestra presented A Concert of Sacred Music at Grace Cathedral, an event so profound to Ellington that he said, "I'm sure that this is the most important statement we've ever made." He went on not only to perform the work in houses of worship around the world but to create a second Sacred Concert three years later and a third in 1973, all with soloists, choirs, and musical ensembles creating a swirl of jazz, swing, gospel, spirituals, and dance made from new and reworked older compositions. The concerts' expansive scope has led to their being revived only rarely since Ellington's death. But this week, Huston-Tillotson University, Texas State University, and the Austin Chamber Music Center are teaming to present a Sacred Concert for the seventh annual Black History Month Concert. The project has been years in the making and promises to be an exceptional program of music, sacred or secular.

Duke Ellington's Sacred Concert will be performed Sunday, Feb. 22, 3pm, in the King-Seabrook Chapel at Huston-Tillotson University, 900 Chicon. For more information, visit

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Seventh Annual Black History Month Concert, Austin Chamber Music Center, Michelle Schumann, Gloria Quinlan, Huston-Tillotson University, Texas State University

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