Celebrating Black Music History at SF Community Music Center

April 18, 2022
San Francisco Classical Voice
Lou Fancher
Celebrating Black Music History at SF Community Music Center

It’s the rare centenarian organization that is as vital and forward-looking as the San Francisco Community Music Center. Founded by Gertrude Field in 1921 with the mission of making music accessible to all people through low or no-cost music lessons and concerts, the CMC is making a larger impact on the Bay Area now, with a greater diversity of programming, as detailed in SFCV’s recent feature.

While continuing to offer a vast array of opportunities for people of all ages, a new Black Music Studies Program and a recommitment to listening to the community are harbingers of the directions the organization will pursue as it enters a second century in operation. Inclusion is not a new word for the CMC: In 1945, its board of directors furthered Field’s humanitarian vision by establishing a hiring process that sought the best instructors, regardless of race.

CMC Executive Director Julie Rulyak Steinberg, in an interview, says, “Community has so many meanings to consider: cultural identity, geography, like-mindedness, generational roots, deeply held values — the list goes on. This kind of multifaceted thinking is always key to the ways in which we seek to reach the various communities we serve through the development of CMC’s programming. When CMC considers how we will frame and prioritize community in our next 100 years, we are finding new ways to listen to those around us, inviting and uplifting diverse voices that reflect a community’s needs and experiences to create music programming and creative work, and expanding our thinking about what role music and the arts can play for our students and teachers beyond traditional teaching and performance.”

Her statement mirrors that of many arts organizations, until she adds, “If we have learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that the arts are a listening tool, a tool of justice, and a way for people to connect to something that is deeply nourishing for individuals and communities.”

Composer, musician, and music scholar Maestro Curtis leads the tuition-free online Black Music Studies Program series of courses he teaches with his wife Nola Curtis, an established and recognized vocalist, musician, teacher, dancer/choreographer, and the accompanist for the CMC Older Adult Choirs. About developing and leading the program, Curtis says, “As a direct descendant of African slaves on both sides of my family, it is a legacy and an honor to be in a position to tell the story and the history of Black music from a Black perspective. The Community Music Center has respected my experience and has allowed me to display, from my perspective, what Black humanity has given to the world and to the music world.”

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Additional press for Maestro Curtis’ A Song of Triumph: The History of Black Music centennial commission:

April 20, 2022
“On the Arts” with David Latulippe
Maestro Curtis, “A Song of Triumph: The History of Black Music”