Nationally renowned composer, conductor and pianist Roland Carter is partnering with local soprano Vanessa Niblack-Kimbrough to present a concert of Negro spirituals on the 137th anniversary (to the day) of the birth of composer R. Nathaniel Dett.
A project three years in the making, this free performance will be held Friday, Oct. 11, at 7:30 p.m. in Second Presbyterian Church, 700 Pine St.
Dett was a well-known concert pianist with degrees in piano and violin, and one of the first black graduates of Oberlin College. He composed the first known anthem based on black American folk material, "Listen to the Lambs," in 1913, which is still performed all over the world as a masterpiece of the genre.
"In this sense, Dett is clearly a successor to European nationalist composers like Dvorâk and Brahms in using folk material from his country as the basis for other compositions," says Carter, a recognized expert on the spiritual form and a scholar of Dett's work.
"At a time when minstrelsy was a widespread form of entertainment poking fun and enforcing stereotypes of black Americans, he strove — successfully — to approach this music artistically and to help it achieve a different level of recognition and appreciation," Carter explains.
If you go
› What: Concert of Negro Spirituals Honoring Composer R. Nathaniel Dett
› Where: Second Presbyterian Church, 700 Pine St.
› When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11
› Admission: Free
› For more information: 423-266-2828
Among his many compositions, Dett left behind 16 known arrangements of spirituals for solo voice and piano, many of which are out of print or unpublished. Fifteen of them will be performed in Friday night's concert by Carter and Niblack-Kimbrough; Carter is still researching the whereabouts of the final song.
Roland Carter is part of a long tradition of composing professors to come through Hampton University.
"Even though I came well after Dett's time at Hampton, he was still remembered as THE choir director," says Carter, who was a Hampton student then its choir director from 1965 to 1989, when he left to become Music Department chairman at UTC.
Niblack-Kimbrough became a student of Carter's at UTC.
"Vanessa and I had many connections in common, and I always liked the expressiveness of her voice. She wasn't singing as much she would like to have been, and when I returned home to UTC, she became an adult student at UTC," says the retired UTC professor.
In addition to performing with such ensembles as the Chattanooga Choral Society for the Preservation of African-American Song and Choral Arts of Chattanooga, she has been a staff singer at St. Paul's Episcopal Church for over two decades and a soloist with the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera, Opera Tennessee, Hops & Opera and New Life Seventh-day Adventist Church.