When San Francisco Classical Voice investigated the Colour of Music Festival for a well-read story by Mark MacNamara, little did we know that Artistic Director Lee Pringle’s hardworking, all-Black group would show up on the West Coast little more than a year and a half later.
But family-friend connections resulted in a contact with retired Sacramento Council member Larry Carr and an agreement to do a three-day slate of concerts, sponsored in part by the city. The success of that installment in 2021 has now blossomed into a full West Coast Colour of Music Festival, featuring 80 musicians led by star violinist Anyango Yarbo-Davenport and including lectures, chamber music, and full orchestra concerts, kicking off at 2 p.m. on Nov. 15 and running through Nov. 18 at several halls around the city.
It might seem like a heavy lift, but the small organization is capable of mighty things. “Our mission,” Pringle says enthusiastically, “is to bring folks who identify culturally as being from the continent of Africa the opportunity to do something that is still really seen as a white European construct. And unlike many of the other diversity-driven arts entities, ours is purely performance/presentation driven. It is to give conservatory-trained musicians the opportunity to do everything from chamber to reduced chamber orchestras to full symphonic orchestras. So we’re one of the few entities that have a model that allows that to go around the country, and we’re very proud that we’re now getting support from the city of Sacramento and support from Visit Sacramento, the visitors’ bureau there.”
This year’s concert offerings are wide and include Yarbo-Davenport playing the Brahms Violin Concerto and organ virtuoso, historian, and Howard University Master Instructor Mickey Thomas Terry in a noon recital.
“Having an organ recital has always been a part of our infrastructure,” Pringle says, “and the reason is that at most historically Black colleges, the only classical instrument in those main halls was the organ. So for first-generation Black collegians, particularly from the South, their access to a classical instrument was the two- to three-manual organ, and the chorales would do things that were organ specific, and a lot of Black composers of that era, from Samuel Coleridge-Taylor to Nathaniel Dett, often had the pipe organ as a featured part [of the ensemble]. And we’re doing one Edmund Thornton Jenkins piece that has an organ as a focal point.”
The Charleston-born Jenkins is also a focus of this festival and is something of a discovery. “He’s the Black male version of Florence Price,” enthuses Pringle. And the story behind that, briefly, is that Jenkins was the son of Daniel Jenkins, who founded the Jenkins Orphanage Band, and his son Edmund was a star soloist there. Edmund went on to the Royal Academy of Music and ended up writing a trove of compositions, some of which were performed in Europe. Tragically, he died at age 32, but his baby sister Mildred Jenkins kept all his scores, and she is the grandmother of Tuffus Zimbabwe, recently appointed keyboardist for Saturday Night Live. The Berklee College of Music-trained Zimbabwe received all these manuscripts and decided to edit them and see them performed. There are eight or nine finished scores at the moment, and Colour of Music will perform four of those on the Nov. 17 concert.
If it sounds like this will be one of the biggest events in Sacramento’s fall arts season, it is. For the full schedule with venues and times, see here. Tickets are available at the Colour of Music website, at the venue box offices an hour before the event, or by phone from the individual venues.