I Bless the Rain Down in Africa — Atlanta Symphony Orchestra declares Cobb County High Schools "Too White" to Play with Them

Stephen Wilson, the lone Black member of the ASO in “The Black Mecca”

Wanting to write about this hilarious found at WSBTV (sent in by a loyal reader: trust me, it’s totally worth watching) that show Black parents in Atlanta complaining of their children being forced to walk one mile to school — through bad neighborhoods that are but a physical manifestation of the type of community Black people are capable of producing on their own — when my eye caught a much different story.

It seems the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra – though boasting virtually an all-white lineup of musicians – is made about the racial makeup of high school chorus groups that perform with them. 11 Alive, the NBC affiliate in Atlanta, reports (Atlanta Symphony thinks two Cobb high school choruses ‘not diverse enough’, 11 Alive NBC – Atlanta, August 16, 2012):

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — After a four-year partnership, two suburban Cobb County high school choruses will not be performing with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra this coming fall.

That’s because they’ve been told they are not racially diverse enough.

The Walton High School Chorus has received many honors and performed all over the world.

So, too, has the Lassiter High School Chorus.

But they won’t be back with the ASO for a joint holiday concert this coming December.

11Alive was first alerted to the change by e-mails from some angry parents, none of whom would go on camera.

But a spokesperson for the Cobb County School District confirmed the breakup.

In a response to an 11Alive e-mail, school system communications director Jay Dillon wrote that “the schools were informed by Symphony officials that their choruses are not diverse enough, and that the Symphony would be inviting a third, more diverse chorus.”

Dillon said Walton and Lassiter were still welcome to participate but, “because of limited space, only a portion of the Lassiter and Walton choruses would therefore be able to attend.”

He added that the schools chose not to leave any chorus members behind and “would not be able to perform with the Symphony.”

Dillon also wrote, “Cobb County School District choral programs are open to all students, and participation is determined on the basis of merit alone.”

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra sent us a written reply from marketing VP Charlie Wade.

“We’ve been thrilled with the quality and performance of Lassiter and Walton choruses for four straight years; they are terrific,” Wade wrote. “But we felt it was simply time to let another set of kids participate.”

He said Atlanta’s Grady High School chorus had been added.

Meanwhile, we also asked about the racial diversity of the ASO itself.

A 2008 study by the League of American Orchestras found that 87% of musicians in U.S. symphonies are white.

But Melissa A.E. Sanders, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s senior director of communications, wrote, “It is against our policy to share the race and/or ethnicity of our musicians, so I am unable to share that information.”

Those hideously white schools in Cobb County, Walton and Lassister, aren’t exactly hives of homogeneity: out of 2500 students, Walton is 75 percent white and 5 percent Black; out of just under 2000 students, Lassiter is 80 percent white and 10 percent Black.

Grady High School, which has replaced these horrifyingly white schools from Cobb County, is thankfully 67 percent Black and 27 percent white. Whereas 50 percent of the students at Grady are eligible for free or reduced lunches, less than 10 percent are eligible at both Lassiter and Walton.

Perhaps there’s a correlation to hunger and vocal ability?

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) has always been on the lookout for the great Black hope, with Robert Shaw- the music director of the ASO from 1967- 1988 – being radically devoted to enriching the all-white ASO with much needed diversity:

When he arrived in Atlanta in August 1967, he found the ASO already in the midst of an effort to upgrade itself. Atlanta’s cultural leaders had long been working toward raising the Orchestra’s budget, extending the length of its season and building a permanent hall for its performances. They turned to Shaw because he was both a musician of international stature in both orchestral and choral realms and a rising conductor who could bring the ASO to prominence as his own reputation grew. 

He came in like a whirlwind, presenting ambitious concerts of difficult music, speaking about Atlanta’s need for a conservatory of music, looking for black musicians to play in the all-white orchestra, successfully lobbying to have black members added to the ASO’s Board, and introducing the city to more contemporary music than it had ever heard before. Hard though he may have driven his players and singers, he pushed himself harder. His attention to detail and his capacity for endless hours of score study and preparation were phenomenal. Unlike most high-profile conductors, he had no other orchestra half a globe away, and he accepted few dates to conduct elsewhere. Shaw had come to Atlanta to be Music Director, and he considered it a full-time commitment. 

Throughout his career, Shaw was known for his commitment to racial equality and to broadening opportunities for minority musicians in the classical field. Under his leadership, the ASO actively sought black and other minority instrumentalists for vacancies in the Orchestra. During the 1980s the Atlanta Symphony participated in the Music Assistance Fund’s “Orchestra Fellows Program,” designed to help rising black string players gain the experience for successful symphonic careers. At the front of the stage, many black soloists, both instrumental and vocal, performed with the ASO. His commitment was further reflected in his full staging in 1972 of the world premiere of Scott Joplin’s opera Treemonisha, in his frequent work with glee clubs from Morehouse and Spelman Colleges, in his leading the ASO at the inaugural ceremony for Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first black mayor, and in his commissioning of new music by composers such as Frederick Tillis, Billy Taylor, John Lewis, T.J. Anderson and Alvin Singleton. Anderson and Singleton were also chosen by Shaw to be Composers in Residence with the ASO.

So, how’d all that diversity and inclusion work out for Mr. Shaw in trying to “Blacken” up the ASO? Lonely Stephen Wilson, who plays in the brass section of the ASO, is the lone Black member of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 2012. In the city that we know and love called “The Black Mecca,” the fine Black citizens of the metro Atlanta area can only muster one lone musician worthy of inclusion in the ASO.

White people, no matter how much talent, are to be replaced in Black-Run America (BRA) with a continued energetic – and rapacious – drive for ‘diversity’.

Some one cue up the Toto and hit replay on “Africa”…

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