Portia Dunkley quote

ACF | connect partner Music of the Unsung America launches a season on music and art by Black creators

Miami, FL (February 4, 2021) –. A new series featuring Black artists of history and today launches this month. Music of the Unsung America reveals a beautiful truth about our history as it kicks off a dynamic season exploring the deep roots and extraordinary range of music created by descendants of Africa. Founded by Portia Dunkley, Music of the Unsung features a wide spectrum of Black artists in a series of performances and events for and from the South Florida community, including works by Joseph Jones and Dwight Banks. Working with the American Composers Forum (ACF) – as part of their ACF I connect program – Music of the Unsung launched a call for scores to identify Jones and Banks for this opportunity. ACF is supporting another call for orchestral pieces and will be offering creative and administrative support for the development and launch of the full series over the course of the next year. Lead funding for Music of the Unsung America is provided by a  matching grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s 2019 Knight Arts Challenge Miami.

“We have a duty, a responsibility to do, to the best of our ability, everything we can to present the truth. That’s what I hope for us. That we use our art and our platform to tell the truth about the image of the artist, the musician, the composer, the creator. The image is not complete when it excludes certain voices,” shared Portia.

The groundbreaking series begins at Sandrell Rivers Theater in Miami, Florida on Saturday, February 13th at 7:00 PM  with Sacred Fire, a performance exploring the chronological range of Western classical music compositions by composers of African descent by merging engaging visual elements and sound. It is a musical journey from Afro-British music to Afro-Brazillian music designed by artist Marielle Plaisir, and narrated with poetic prose, incorporating elements of ballet. The program will culminate in an audience talk-back with the artists. Tickets for in person performance are $10 and can be purchased here. The performance will also be presented virtually via Music of the Unsung America’s Facebook page

“The ‘Music of the Unsung’ series is an example of how music and art can share important, often unknown stories in a way that connects with broad audiences,” said Priya Sircar, director of Knight Foundation’s arts program. “The concert-lecture series will cast a spotlight on the crucial contributions to global music by Black artists.”

Portia Dunkley is a winner of the 2019 Knight Arts Challenge, Knight Foundation’s annual open call to support artists create new works that connect people to place and each other. 

Music of the Unsung America’s season continues in the spring with a concert featuring the world premiere of Joseph JonesSecond String Quartet, Op. 47, Quartet No. 2  and culminates with a Juneteenth concert at the legendary Hampton House in Miami most recently featured in Regina King’s film “One Night in Miami.” The concert will feature composer and University of Miami Frost School of Music adjunct professor Dwight BanksTRE

To view these performances virtually and find out more about the Music of The Unsung America series, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/Music-of-The-Unsung-America-105346844627232

Information can also be found on ACF’s webpage here:

About Portia Dunkley 

Born to immigrant parents, Portia Dunkley is a native of Miami, FL with Bahamian and Haitian Carribean roots. In 2017, Portia started Teeny Violini, a mobile music education program for preschools and afterschool programs, providing music education services for historically underserved communities, educating students from preschool-5th grade through weekly programming. In 2019 Portia was chosen as a Fellow for the Sphinx L.EA.D (Leaders in Excellence, Arts and Diversity) inaugural cohort. Currently she serves as the Executive Director of the Refugee Orchestra Project whose mission is to demonstrate through music the vitally important role that refugees from across the globe have played in our country’s culture and society. Inspired by her own experience as a Black woman musician and double bassist and having learned about these Black composers late in her career, Portia hopes that her work with Music of the Unsung America and The Refugee Orchestra Project will help build communities of belonging, amplify the voices and creative talents of marginalized artists and inspire young people of all cultures to see themselves reflected in classical music. 

About Dwight Banks 

Dwight Banks completed his PhD studies in composition at the University of California, Berkeley, where his primary teachers were Olly Wilson, Edwin Dugger, John Thow and Jorge Liderman. In addition, he completed his M.M at California State University, Northridge where he studied with Daniel Kessner, Frank Campo, Beverly Grigsby and Aurelio DeLa Vega. He also completed his BFA at the City College of New York majoring in jazz composition and performance under the guidance of pianist, composer and bandleader John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet.

In 2002, he was selected as a winner in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s emerging composers program for his orchestral piece Pupil of the Eye. Additional honors include several awards from ASCAP and the 2005 James Irvine Foundation Honorary Fellowship. His music has also been performed by ensembles such as the South Arkansas Symphony, the Berkeley New Music Ensemble and the North South Consonance Ensemble. He has been awarded artist residencies from the Djerassi and I-Park Resident Artists Programs. Banks has presented research papers at various conferences with topics ranging from the extended works of Duke Ellington to compositional techniques in the music of Witold Lutoslawski.

A New York City native currently residing in West Palm Beach, Florida, his experience as a trumpet player includes appearances with Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner and Kenny Burrell.

The diversity of his involvement in music has included research into subcultural urban music trends which is often reflected in his concert works.

About Joseph Jones 

Joseph Jones developed his interest in conducting at an early age; after beginning to cultivate it with independent score study at the age of 14, he began a course of study with Dr. Harlan Parker at the Peabody Conservatory. In November 2004, he made his operatic debut with Capitol Opera, Harrisburg, as conductor and music director in four performances of Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz. In the summer of 2005, Mr. Jones was awarded a fellowship to study at the American Academy of Conducting at the Aspen Music Festival—at the time, the youngest conductor ever to receive a fellowship to that program. He studied with David Zinman and Murray Sidlin, conducting the American Academy of Conducting Orchestra in masterclass readings and concerts. Mr. Jones is the founder, artistic director, and conductor of the Orchestra Amadeus, a project based in New York City, which performs benefit concerts for humanitarian causes. Other recent activities include a conducting apprenticeship with the New York Youth Symphony; a fellowship with the Allentown (Pa.) Symphony Orchestra; and serving as assistant conductor with the National Music Festival and Gulf Coast Symphony. Mr. Jones has also appeared with the Moscow Symphony, the Kuban Symphony, and the Orquestra Sinfonica de Coyo.  He has participated in masterclasses with orchestras such as the Omaha Symphony and Rose City Chamber Orchestra, and with conductors David Zinman, Vladimir Ponkin, Michael Morgan, Murray Sidlin, Thomas Wilkins, Mark Gibson, and Achim Houloub. Mr. Jones studied composition, conducting, and viola at the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

About the American Composers Forum 

ACF supports and advocates for individuals and groups creating music today by demonstrating the vitality and relevance of their art. We connect artists with collaborators, organizations, audiences, and resources. Through storytelling, publications, recordings, hosted gatherings, and industry leadership, we activate equitable opportunities for artists. We provide direct funding and mentorship to a broad and diverse field of music creators, highlighting those who have been historically excluded from participation.

Founded in 1973 by composers Libby Larsen and Stephen Paulus as the Minnesota Composers Forum, the organization continues to invest in its Minnesota home while connecting artists and advocates across the United States and beyond. ACF frames our work with a focus on racial equity and includes within that scope, but not limited to, diverse gender identities, musical approaches and perspectives, religions, ages, (dis)abilities, cultures, backgrounds, sexual orientations, and broad definitions of being “American.” Visit www.composersforum.org for more information.

Launched in 2017, ACF | connect provides sustained support for music creators to build relationships with ensembles based in the United States. Through the development of new work, the program intentionally supports a spectrum of voices and music to advance creative musical expression, which we believe is essential to human culture. Previous collaborations include the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble (PNME), Roomful of Teeth, and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians® (AACM)’s Great Black Music Ensemble.

American Composers Forum’s ACF | connect program is made possible with the outstanding generosity of the following individuals: Jane Anfinson, Thomas Arneson, Suzanne Asher, Carol Barnett, Pearl and Bob Bergad, Margee and Will Bracken, Karen Brooks, Richard Cisek and Kay Fredericks, Dee Ann and Kent Crossley, Julia W. Dayton, C. Lee Essrig, Rosemary & David Good Family Foundation, Katherine Goodale, Jeff and Hyun Mee Graves, Mike and Kay McCarthy, Carol Heen, Steve Heitzeg and Gwen Pappas, Kathleen Henschel and John Dewes, Linda and Jack Hoeschler, Leaetta Hough and Bob Muschewske, Sam Hsu and Sally Cheng, Hella Mears Hueg Estate Gift, Thelma Hunter Estate Gift, John and Ruth Huss, George Frederick Jewett Foundation East, Art and Martha Kaemmer, Jon Lewis and Lisa Merklin, Greg McNeely, Alfred and Ann Moore, Louis and Gloria Nuechterlein, John Nuechterlein and Dan Monson, John and Debbie Orenstein, I.A. O’Shaughnessy Foundation in memory of Thelma Hunter, David and Judy Ranheim, Denice Rippentrop, Vanessa Rose, Bill and Susan Sands, Gale Sharpe, Doug and Kathy Skor, Dan and Ellie Thomas, Stephen and Jayne Usery, Kathleen van Bergen, Janika Vandervelde, Jim Wafler, and Margaret and Angus Wurtele.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation 
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit KF.org.