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Black composers matter – QCity Metro

Five Points Plaza event coordinator Jessica Macks knew she wanted to collaborate with Charlotte Strings Collective after one chance meeting. Charlotte Strings Collective primarily comprises people of color, about half of whom are Black, and emphasizes playing music by Black composers. 

The group was formed in 2020 after increasing Black Lives Matter protests. 

“Their mission and their vision inspired me. So right then, I was like, ‘I need to bring them to the plaza,’” Macks told QCity Metro in a recent interview — and bring them to the plaza she did. 

This Saturday, Charlotte Strings Collective will perform at Five Points Plaza. The free event’s song lineup includes classics from past composers like Duke Ellington and Florence Prince and contemporary ones like Rhiannon Giddens. 

Charlotte Strings Collective has a history of performing at North Carolina Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and some of its members are former students of Northwest School of the Arts. 

Mira Firsch, one of the group’s founding members, told QCity Metro that the group’s mission is to “elevate Black artists and Black voices.” 

Violin player Madison Bush has been with Charlotte Strings Collective since its formation. Bush said Saturday’s event was essential for representing Black people in the classical music scene. 

“Our group will be performing music from underrepresented Black composers to inform our audience that Black people, as well as other people of color, can and have successfully existed in what’s known to be a primarily white space.” 

Meet two of Charlotte’s Black composers

Malik Johnson

Malik Johnson is another founding member of the Charlotte Strings Collective and a viola player. Johnson teaches music at Carrabus Charter Academy when not performing with the group. 

Of the songs to be performed on Saturday, he said his favorite is a piece by Giddens called “At the Purchaser’s Option.”

“[In] a lot of the music that we do, there’s like a backstory to i. First of all, most people don’t really listen to the pieces we play. And then secondly, they don’t know the story behind it either,” Johnson told QCity Metro.

 “At the Purchaser’s Option” is about a Black woman at risk of being separated from her child.

Johnson said the song resonates with him because of how touching the story is.

Taylor Byrd

Taylor Byrd, a viola player and Northwest School of the Arts alumni, composed “Sunday Girls,” inspired by the deaths of four Black girls in a 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. 

Byrd says she created the piece in the girls’ memory. Byrd’s piece incorporates “freedom songs,” which were used to increase morale during the civil rights movement. 

Byrd was partly drawn to Charlotte Strings Collective because of its focus on Black music. 

“It’s rare to have a group that plays music by Black composers classical specifically,” Byrd told QCity Metro.  I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to play in the group. Being that I am a Black woman, I do play classical music. So it gives me a chance to delve into a world I’m a part of.”

Byrd joined the group around the time it formed in 2020, a time she says had a lot of “tension.”  

“I feel like what our stands for is very important. And it could help us connect more Black people to the world of classical music,” Byrd said. 

If you go:

  • Time: 1 p.m. – 2 p.m. 
  • Place: Five Points Plaza
  • Date: Saturday, April 29. 
  • Cost: Free

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