Kira Thurman at The Point:
If the names of these Black Oberlinites are unfamiliar, I suspect it is with good reason: we do not know how to talk about them. Over the course of my life I have learned that to be black and a classical musician is to be considered a contradiction. After hearing that I was a music major, a TSA agent asked me if I was studying jazz. One summer in Bayreuth, a white German businessman asked me what I was doing in his town. Upon hearing that I was researching the history of Wagner’s opera house, he remarked, “But you look like you’re from Africa.” After I gushed about Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, someone once told me that I wasn’t “really black.” All too often, black artistic activities can only be recognized in “black” arts.
One reason it is difficult to talk about black classical musicians is because people assume they are elitist, as though to love Haydn piano sonatas—as I do—is somehow to betray black cultures in favor of a white, Western world. I have heard this particular indictment since my freshman year of college, and it hurts because it’s not too far off.