William Blair Celebrates Black History Month with the Chicago Sinfonietta

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

In honor of Black History Month, William Blair celebrated diversity, equality and inclusion with the executive leaders of the Chicago Sinfonietta during a staff luncheon on February 7.

The Chicago Sinfonietta is a professional orchestra founded in 1987 by Paul Freeman to create high quality orchestra music through the voice of diverse musicians, soloists and composers that is accessible to everyone.

Jacqui Robertson, global head of talent, diversity and inclusion for William Blair, hosted the event and introduced the executive team at Chicago Sinfonietta – Jim Hirsch, CEO; Courtney Perkins, chief operating officer; Edna Togba, senior development officer.

Perkins shared a story of Freeman's chance meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968 at the Atlanta airport at 2 a.m. that crystalized his vision to diversify the music field. When the two acquaintances greeted, Freeman said he was in the city to guest conduct the Atlanta Symphony – making him the first African American on that podium. Dr. King responded: "'Ah the last bastion of elitism, glory hallelujah,'" Perkins told the gathering.

Three weeks later Dr. King was assassinated.

Perkins said Freeman felt his conversation with Dr. King was a calling to dedicate his career to making the music industry inclusive. Not only did Freeman create the nation's most diverse orchestra, Chicago Sinfonietta, he was the first African American conductor on the podium of more than 50 orchestras worldwide and conducted more than 100 orchestras in 28 countries during his career.

This year the orchestra is celebrating 30 years of inclusion.

Following the luncheon an ensemble, which will be performing in Sinfonietta's concert season Hear Me Roar, played Danzas de Panama: Cumbia y Congo composed by William Grant Still. A gifted conductor and composer, Still was the first African American to have a major symphony production in 1931.

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