Staff Spotlight: Telling the Painful and Hopeful Story of the Black Community Through Music

By WFMT |

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Tim Russell, WFMT's Vice President of Community Engagement

In the first of our WFMT Staff Spotlight series, we share a playlist from Tim Russell, the Vice President of Community Engagement at WFMT and WTTW.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “Music is the universal language of mankind.”

Music has been an instrumental part of my life since I can remember. It was the first language that I learned and in fact, it is probably the first language that most of us learned. I was fortunate to be born and raised in Oberlin, Ohio, and I was introduced to classical music at an early age, specifically, Black classical composers such as Florence Price and George Walker. As a kid, I can remember going on a field trip to Oberlin College and having the opportunity to hear George Walker speak. Mr. Walker was an alumnus of Oberlin College (as I) and two decades after my field trip (in 1996); he became the first Black composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Lilacs, for Voice and Orchestra. I can still recall him saying (and I am paraphrasing) that Black classical music is a story of overcoming cultural prejudice and telling the painful and hopeful story of the Black community.

As I put together this personal playlist, I had two criteria:

  • The music had to tell the painful and hopeful story of the Black community; and
  • The composers had to have a connection to Chicago or Oberlin College

I hope you enjoy this playlist! Let us know which composer was your favorite and who you would add to your playlist!