Ringgold Band concert to celebrate Black composers and musicians

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Feb. 24—Black composers and musicians have had a profound influence on American music, said Charles Ebersole, director of the Ringgold Band.

The Reading-based community band will celebrate some of the most distinguished of these at an upcoming free concert commemorating Black History Month.

Held each February, the monthlong observation pays tribute to the accomplishments of Black Americans and their contributions to the nation's story.

The concert will take place Sunday at 2 p.m. at Reformation Lutheran Church, 3670 Perkiomen Ave., Exeter Township.

"We planned this (concert) to celebrate African American composers and performers and the different styles and contributions that they brought to American music," Ebersole said. "We're calling it 'Scott Joplin to Stevie Wonder — Celebrating Black Composers, Performers and Styles.'"

Ebersole said pieces by several well-established Black composers in the fields of contemporary classical and band music will be among the selections featured.

These include a suite of works by retired Lt. Col. Dwayne S. Milburn, an internationally recognized conductor, composer and arranger.

Milburn holds a master's degree in orchestral conducting from the Cleveland Institute of Music and a doctorate in music composition from University of California Los Angeles. Prior to retirement, he served as one of the the Army's 24 commissioned bandmasters.

The concert also will feature works by the internationally acclaimed composer, conductor and pianist Kevin Day.

Day is known for his propulsive, syncopated rhythms and colorful orchestrations. His compositions are said to lie at the intersection of jazz, fusion, Latin sounds and contemporary classical expressions.

Pieces by Scott Joplin, one of nation's first commercially successful Black composers, also will be performed. During the late 19th and early 20th century, Joplin, a composer and pianist, wrote over 40 original ragtime songs, one ragtime ballet and two operas. He has been dubbed the King of Ragtime.

"We'll also pay tribute to jazz greats Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington," Ebersole said.

Armstrong, also called Satchmo and Pops, was a trumpeter and vocalist and is considered among the most influential figures in jazz, Ebersole noted. His career spanned five decades and several eras in the history of jazz.

"Louis Armstrong is like the American Mozart," Ebersole said. "He has that kind of influence. He invented a whole new style of music. It's pretty amazing."

Edward Kennedy Ellington, better known as Duke, was a jazz pianist, innovator, composer and orchestra leader. Active from the 1920s to his death in 1974, Ellington is considered among the most creative musicians of the 20th century. His influence can be felt not only on jazz, but also on popular and classical music, Ebersole said.

The musical tribute will conclude with a medley of songs by Stevland Hardaway Morris, known professionally as Stevie Wonder. The singer-songwriter is considered a pioneer across a range of genres, including rhythm and blues, pop, soul, gospel, funk and jazz.

The congregation of Reformation Lutheran Church will host the event as part of its community outreach.

Facilitating a concert marking Black History Month is important to the congregation, said The Rev. Paul Metzloff, pastor of the church.

"We work very hard to be inclusive and open," Metzloff said. "We are very focused on things like justice and racial equality, so offering our space seemed like a very small way that we could help."

The event is funded by the American Federation of Musicians.