Legacy, history, and America’s Got Talent: An interview with Maestro Curtis

August 18, 2021

By Anne C. Mitchell

Maestro Curtis, CMC faculty member since 2013, is having quite a moment. His family band The Curtis Family C-Notes are going to be competing in the America’s Got Talent (AGT) quarter finals on August 24. Then on August 31, he’ll launch the Black Music Studies Program, CMC’s newest tuition-free program. As teachers at CMC, Maestro and Nola Curtis have taught piano and voice, directed choirs in the Older Adult Choir Program, and taught group classes. Their five children have grown up in the halls of CMC studying various instruments and participating in the Vocal Harmony classes their parents taught. “Community Music Center has literally changed our lives,” said Curtis. “The community of musicians and the leadership has allowed us to thrive not only in what we love to do, but as community activists.”

The Black Music Studies Program which Maestro Curtis developed, follows the emergence of American music from the African Diaspora through talks, workshops, and music practices taught online. “If Gertrude Field (CMC’s founding director) were alive today, I believe she would have something like the Black Music Studies Program at the Community Music Center,” said Curtis. “I feel proud to be an extension of her legacy. This gutsy woman started something so remarkable a hundred years ago.”

Students will learn about the lineage of American music that developed out of the cultures of the African Diaspora and the musical derivatives that evolved through the 20th century and into the music of today. The program is designed to “inspire” and “empower” students to have a full understanding of the roots of American music. “We want to validate the originators, composers, and the people that gave this music to the world,” he said. “We say ‘black music studies,’ but it belongs to everyone.” Musical examples will include early vocal ensembles (barbershop quartet), early jazz and blues (Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey), Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Motown, and the music of today.

On August 24, Curtis will be taking the stage with his wife Nola and five children Zahara, Nile, Kiki, Isis, and Phoenix as the family band, The Curtis Family C-Notes. The C-Notes have been a source of inspiration in the Bay Area in recent years, performing in CMC’s Facebook Live series, the mayoral inauguration, and delivering food and live music to families in the Bayview. Curtis credits the CMC Facebook Live series with AGT producers discovering them online. During the AGT quarter finals, the C-Notes will perform live on national television along with 11 other groups with talents ranging from dance, music, comedy, poetry, and others. America will vote for their favorite contestants, and the acts with the most votes will advance to the next round. The winner of the competition will receive $1 million paid out over a period of time. “We don’t look at music from the perspective of competing,” said Curtis. “We look at it as a way to bring joy…and now we get a bigger audience to be able to do that!”

Tune in to America’s Got Talent on Tuesday, August 24 at 6pm PT. You can follow the C-Notes on InstagramYouTube, and Facebook.

🎉 Go C-Notes!