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

Maestro Curtis, CMC faculty member since 2013, is having quite a moment. His family band, The Curtis Family C-Notes, is going to compete 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 his wife, Nola Curtis, have taught piano, voice, directed choirs in the Older Adult Choir Program and led 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 Maestro 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. 

Curtis explained: “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. I feel proud to be an extension of her legacy. This gutsy woman started something so remarkable a hundred years ago.”

In the new program, students will learn about the lineage of American music that developed out of the cultures of the African Diaspora, following 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 fuller understanding of the roots of American music. 

“We want to validate the originators, composers and the people that gave this music to the world,” Maestro Curtis 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 Nola and their 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 in the spring of 2020, the mayoral inauguration and providing musical food deliveries in Bayview-Hunter’s Point. 

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 sleight of hand. 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 $1million. 

“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!