William Warfield 2020 Benefit Concert Celebrates William Warfield’s 100th Birthday and features Eastman student Jonathan Rhodes, Current Scholarship Recipient

December 20, 2019

poster imageSince it was founded in 1977, the William Warfield Scholarship Fund, Inc. has provided financial aid to more than 35 students at the Eastman School of Music, and spotlighted talented recipients in an annual benefit concert. This year’s benefit concert will be held in the School’s Kilbourn Hall on Sunday, January 12, 2020, at 3 p.m. and features the 2019 scholarship recipient, Eastman student Jonathan Rhodes. This concert will also honor George Shirley, the Joseph Edgar Maddy Distinguished University Emeritus Professor of Music of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance.

Joining Rhodes and Shirley on the concert program are former Warfield Scholarship recipient Nicole Cabell (soprano); Robert Sims (baritone); Thomas Warfield (tenor); Herb Smith (Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra principal trumpet); Eric Logan (bass) with Paulette Gissendanner (soprano); and the Mount Olivet/Mount Vernon Combined Choirs. A Meet & Greet Artists’ Reception follows the performance.

Over four decades, recipients of the William Warfield Scholarship have included such notable singers as soprano Julia Bullock, winner of the 2014 W. Naumburg Foundation’s International Vocal Competition; soprano Nicole Cabell, winner of the 2005 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition; and bass-baritone Jamal Moore, who was featured with the University of Rochester a cappella ensemble The Yellowjackets on the NBC competition The Sing-Off in 2011 and is performing internationally with the a cappella group The Exchange.

Jonathan Rhodes Tenor, of Orlando FL, is a 4th-year performance major at the Eastman School of Music, (ESM) studying under Anthony Dean Griffey. Raised in a family without a background in classical music, his path in music began with singing Disney duets with his sister. Later, the excitement of singing in a 5th grade talent show led him to take on vocal lessons in the 6th grade with his choir teacher’s daughter, an opera singer. Jonathan began singing in high school choirs and then participated in vocal competitions, including the National Classical Singer Vocal Competition where he was offered a full scholarship at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School and its classical Vocal Performance Program in his senior year. In 2016 Jonathan made his opera debut at age 18 as Kurz in the premiere of Memory Boy with the Minnesota Opera’s Project Opera youth training program; and was accepted at ESM. In his collegiate career, Jonathan has performed the role of Liberto in L’incoronazione di Poppaea and the Tenor I in Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Tibetan Book of the Dead in Nov. 2018. He made his professional concert debut with the Rochester Oratorio Society in 2018 and has been a featured performer in the Landmark Society’s 90th anniversary concert alongside the Ying Quartet and members of PUSH Physical Theatre. Jonathan is a multi-year scholarship recipient of the William Warfield Scholarship Fund Inc. and, most recently, placed first in the Civic Morning Musicals Competition. After graduation, Jonathan intends to pursue a master’s degree in vocal performance.

George Shirley is one of America’s most versatile tenors and is in demand nationally and internationally as performer, teacher, and lecturer. He is The Joseph Edgar Maddy Distinguished University Emeritus Professor of Music and former Director of the Vocal Arts Division of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. He has been honored with numerous awards and honorary degrees including the NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing, Inc.) Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014. George was the first black tenor and second African American male to sing leading roles with the Metropolitan Opera, where he remained for eleven years as leading artist. George received a Grammy Award in 1968 and has performed more than 80 operatic roles as well as oratorio and recital literature over the span of his 60-year career. In the 1970’s he hosted a radio series, “Classical Music and the Afro-American”, featuring a lengthy January 1974 tribute to William Warfield and his experiences as an African American performance artist, where Warfield commented “It is still much more difficult for black men to make it in opera then for the black prima donnas” and candidly spoke of the challenges for a touring African American artist. As lecturer and adjudicator, Mr. Shirley has traveled across the nation presenting distinctive insights into traditional music and especially the singular role of black composers and performers. In 2011 George Shirley helped the George Shirley African American Art Song and Operatic Aria Competition for all high school and now college students, to popularize the art song/operatic aria compositions of African American composers.

Nicole Cabell, is an exciting lyric soprano whose career has taken her to the most important opera stages and concert halls in the world and is one of the most sought-after lyric sopranos of today. In 2005 Nicole won BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, a competition known throughout the classical music world as the premier showcase for opera and concert singers at the outset of their careers. As a child, she did not listen to classical music. She and a classmate used to play basketball together and would “imitate opera singers”. Nicole had three years of private singing lessons in high school and found early encouragement through competitions like the National Association of Teachers of Singing where in 1997, she took 2nd prize, just before studying at the Eastman School of Music (1998-2001).

She was a William Warfield Scholarship Fund recipient from 1999-2001. ESM played a major role in her formation as an artist. After Eastman she was invited to join the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists at the Lyric Opera of Chicago where she remained for three years: the Center’s then-director, Richard Pearlman, famous soprano and Director of Vocal Studies Gianna Rolandi, and opera legend Marilyn Horne were her mentors. In addition to her many operatic, concert, and recital appearances that have taken her all over the world and established her among today’s leading opera singers, Nicole is also a recording artist and faculty at DePaul University as a voice teacher: “I can use my experience to help educate singers, letting them know what’s happening in the performance world and how to figure out the best thing to do to prepare for a successful career…” Nicole says she foresees herself singing well into the future and looks forward to what exciting new challenges will continue to await her as she educates the next generation of opera singers.

Robert Sims, (born in Chicago, Illinois) is a lyric baritone who specializes in African American folk songs and spirituals, is known for his rich tone, energetic performances and convincing stage presence. He is the Gold Medal winner of the American Traditions Competition, gave the first all spiritual and folk song recital at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall in 2005. In March 2009, he was invited by Jessye Norman to participate in Honor! A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy at Carnegie Hall. Robert has performed in recital with folk legend Odetta and renowned opera and concert singers George Shirley, William Warfield, Simon Estes, Benjamin Matthews, and Jubilant Sykes. Equally at home with standard operatic literature and classic jazz, Robert has collaborated with the Georgia Guitar Quartet and David Baker and Mercedes Ellington for Duke Ellington’s The Sacred Concerts and My People. He recently appeared on two Heritage Special telecasts with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and made his debut in the United Kingdom with the Gibraltar Philharmonic. He has performed in concert at New York’s Lincoln Center, the Smithsonian, the Ravinia, Chautauqua, Savannah, Big Arts and Grant Park music festivals. His connection to William Warfield is highlighted on the recording, “Three Generations” by Robert Sims, Benjamin Matthews & William Warfield, recorded live in concert October 10, 1999, a once in a lifetime gathering of these renowned baritones singing African American Spirituals and is a true classic. Robert is an alumnus of Oberlin Conservatory, SUNY Binghamton, Northwestern University, and Music Academy of the West and is a professor of voice at Northern Illinois University. For more information visit www.robertsims.com

Thomas Warfield has performed, from stage to television to film, in more than 100 cities around the world as a singer, dancer, actor, model, composer, choreographer, director, producer, educator, activist and poet. For 20 years he has been director of dance and professor a NTID/RIT. He is artistic director of PeaceArt International, a community building through the arts global project he founded 28 years ago. He is a recipient of a National Science Foundation grant, Off-Broadway Award for choreography and was honored by the United Nations. His original project “A Global Poem in Praise of Peace” received dozens of participants, including: Leonard Bernstein, Mother Theresa and President Mitterrand of France. He is former president of ARTWalk and the Association of Teaching Artists and has served on numerous boards including The Rochester Area Community Foundation, Rochester Fringe Festival, MuCCC Theatre, The National Classic TV Preservation Society and former Board president of the William Warfield Scholarship Fund.

Herb Smith is third trumpet with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. He is a graduate of The Eastman School of Music and began playing in the orchestra after graduating in 1991. Herb is a black man in the white world of classical, where the notes are in the same place as they were 300 years ago. Yet he is equally at home in places that are classical’s polar opposite, reggae and jazz, where improvisation runs wild. He works with students through the Young Audiences of America and Rochester City School District Artist in Residence program. Herb travels all over upstate N.Y. doing workshops and presentations on classical music and the accessibility of this music for non-musicians. He also is a regular presenter on world music and jazz. He plays many gigs with his jazz quartet and is a frequent substitute player for the Chautauqua Symphony and Buffalo Philharmonic orchestras. Herb is trumpet instructor for the Eastman Community Music School and teaches trumpet from his home studio. He has played with many notable artists, including Al Jarreau, Natalie Cole, Doc Severinsen, and The O’Jays; composed music for silent films, written musical arrangements for local bands in the area, and in a recent collaboration composed a full-length ballet for Garth Fagan Dance.

Bass-Baritone Eric Logan is a native of Baltimore, Maryland where he first studied voice at the Peabody School of Music. Eric earned a Bachelor of Arts with a minor in Music from Roberts Wesleyan College and has been active in both church and community musical efforts. He is a member of the Rochester Oratorio Society and a vocalist in The Bureau Cats Blues Band. Eric serves the greater Rochester community as a Trustee of the Hochstein School of Music and Dance, and the United Way of Greater Rochester Governance Committee. He works for the City of Rochester as an IT Manager and lives in Rochester’s historic South Wedge neighborhood. “The Warfield Scholarship Fund is a wonderful and effective tribute to the life and legacy of the legendary American bass-baritone, educator, mentor and author, William Warfield. I am honored and blessed to be asked to participate musically in this 100th anniversary of Warfield’s birth!”

Soprano, Paulette Gissendanner, is a 30-year veteran Music Educator and performing artist. She has performed on the operatic, musical theatre, recital and contemporary Music stage within the United States and wider Caribbean. A graduate of Indiana University’s School of Music-Bloomington where she studied with Camilla Williams—a contemporary of William Warfield– she has since served on the Music Faculties of the University of the Virgin Islands-St. Thomas and the California State University-Monterey Bay, retiring as Professor Emeritus of Music in 2016. She currently sings with the Rochester Oratorio Society, performing most recently as soloist for Puccini’s (Sr.) Magnificat, and Rutter’s Mass of the Children. She maintains a Private Voice Studio locally and is pleased to be invited to perform in the 100th Birthday Celebration Concert honoring William Warfield.

The Warfield family have been involved with both Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church and Mt. Olivet Baptist Church. William’s father, Robert made Mt. Olivet Baptist Church (established October 14, 1910) his home church on his move to Rochester in 1925 under the leadership of pastor Dr. James Rose (1920-42). It was the first Baptist church established in Rochester for a small group of Southern Baptist African Americans.

William was baptized there in his 12th year. And it was at Mt. Olivet that William “first enjoyed some of the classics of western church music-Handel, Bach and others….it was there that classical music first became an easy and familiar part of (my) daily life”.

In 1946 William’s dad Robert Warfield, now a Reverend, became the pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church (founded 1939), the home church for his family to the present. His brother Thaddeus was minister of music there for decades.

About the William Warfield Scholarship Fund
Formed in March 1977 (incorporated in 1979) under the leadership of Anastasia L. “Tessa” Martin to honor the life and legacy of William Warfield, we are a 15-member board, 100% volunteer operated with no paid personnel.

Mission: The William Warfield Scholarship Fund is dedicated to providing financial support and encouragement for African American students to attain success in the field of classical vocal music; and, fostering wider recognition of the life and legacy of William Warfield.

We provide an annual scholarship for African American vocal students at the Eastman School of Music; and two events that feature our ESM scholarships recipient: January Concert at Kilbourn Hall; and a spring Annual Scholarship Luncheon. Our newest program, “William Warfield Classical Vocal Competition for African American High School Students”, provides financial support and encouragement to African American students in a multi-state region.

What Are Future Goals For The WWSF?
As our financial and volunteer resources allow, we will develop educational programs that inform the public about the life and legacy of William Warfield; and, continue to identify ways to support African American classical vocal students and their careers.

“The Warfield Scholarship Fund is a wonderful and effective tribute to the life and legacy of the legendary American bass-baritone, educator, mentor and author, William Warfield,” said Eric Logan. “I am honored and blessed to be asked to participate musically in this 100th anniversary of Warfield’s birth!”

For more information on the William Warfield Scholarship Fund: www.williamwarfield.org; https://www.facebook.com/williamwarfieldscholarshipfund/ or info@williamwarfield.org.

Tickets are $25 leading up to the concert and $30 at the door, $10 student pricing available with University ID. For tickets visit the Eastman Theatre Box Office; www.eastmantheatre.org or (585)247-3000. Reserved Seating.

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About William Warfield

William Warfield was born in West Helena, Ark., January 22, 1920, the oldest of five sons of a Baptist minister and sharecropper. Both of his parents, Robert and Bertha McCamery Warfield, were the children of African American slaves.
In 1925 at age five his father, Robert E. Warfield moved his family north to Rochester in order to seek better educational and employment opportunities.
William graduated from Rochester city schools and earned a New York state cosmetology license. During his senior high school year, he won the National Music Educators League Competition and a full scholarship to any American music school of his choice. William chose the Eastman School of Music, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1942 and 1946.

He described how he grew up in an atmosphere free of discrimination and how he encountered virulent racism as he started working in his professional field, recounting painful memories of racial slurs, closed doors and impossible barriers. Opportunities for an African American male opera singer remained too limited, but concert tours and popular music scenes presented him with ample professional fulfillment. “Opera wasn’t ready for me, or any black male …But it never occurred to me to give up.”

William was known worldwide for his work as a soloist, recitalist, actor, narrator and activist. He was acclaimed throughout the world as one of the great vocal artists of our time, was a star in every field open to a singer’s art and was one of the world leading experts on Negro Spirituals and German Lieder. Best known for his portrayals of Porgy in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and of Joe, the dock hand, in the movie Showboat, he won a Grammy in 1984 for his narration of Aaron Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait accompanied by the Eastman Philharmonia. In 1991, he published his uncommonly personal memoir, {My Music & My Life}.

Warfield died at age 82 August 25, 2002, in Chicago from complications from a broken neck suffered in a fall. He is buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery. Many of his family continue to live in Rochester NY. The William Warfield Scholarship Fund, Inc., (WWSF) honors the life and legacy of William Warfield and promotes opportunities for African-American students who aspire to a career in classical vocal performance. WWSF offers five programs: an Eastman School of Music Annual Scholarship; an annual January Concert featuring our Eastman scholarship recipient and other performing artists; an annual April Scholarship Luncheon featuring our ESM scholarship recipient; our newest program, WWSF Classical Vocal Competition for African-American High School Students in a six-state area; and teaching the public about the life and legacy of William Warfield.

About Eastman School of Music:

The Eastman School of Music was founded in 1921 by industrialist and philanthropist George Eastman (1854-1932), founder of Eastman Kodak Company. It was the first professional school of the University of Rochester. Mr. Eastman’s dream was that his school would provide a broad education in the liberal arts as well as superb musical training. The current dean is Jamal Rossi, appointed in 2014.

More than 900 students are enrolled in the Collegiate Division of the Eastman School of Music—about 500 undergraduates and 400 graduate students. They come from almost every state, and approximately 23 percent are from other countries. They are taught by a faculty comprised of more than 130 highly regarded performers, composers, conductors, scholars, and educators. They are Pulitzer Prize winners, Grammy winners, Emmy winners, Guggenheim Fellows, ASCAP Award recipients, published authors, recording artists, and acclaimed musicians who have performed in the world’s greatest concert halls. Each year, Eastman’s students, faculty members, and guest artists present more than 900 concerts to the Rochester community.