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October 29, 2020

News Release:
Manhattan School of Music Announces Its Inaugural Roster of Artist Scholars, an Influential Group of Black Artists, Activists, Educators, and Administrators

The 2020–21 Class of Artist Scholars will communicate their experiences and insights relating to racial equity, representation, and inclusion, sparking ongoing dialogue with the MSM Community in multiple forums.

NEW YORK, October 29, 2020 – Renowned international music conservatory Manhattan School of Music (MSM) today unveiled its inaugural roster of Artist Scholars, an accomplished and influential list of Black performers, educators, activists, directors, choreographers, and administrators that includes Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Anthony Davis, acclaimed classical pianist Lara Downes, chamber musicians, Imani Winds, and novelist Tayari Jones, among many others.

The School’s inaugural 2020–21 class of Artist Scholars, will join MSM in a variety of forums, including panels, seminars, discussion groups, special performances, musical collaborations, and mentorship. The program, part of the School’s Cultural Inclusion Initiative and spearheaded by MSM Chief of Staff (Office of the President) and Assistant Vice President for Special Initiatives Alexa Smith, offers MSM students, faculty, and staff members opportunities to engage with the Artist Scholars in a range of topics related to their experiences, expertise, and insights around artistry, creativity, and careers. The Artist Scholars provide MSM’s community with space to explore and address questions of racial equity, representation, and inclusion within the performing arts and society.

“After America’s especially difficult spring, summer, and fall, MSM’s full embrace of the urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement has inspired several important and meaningful new and ongoing initiatives and partnerships at the School,” says MSM President James Gandre. “Our new Artist Scholars initiative is one such program, reflecting our strong belief in consistent dialogue and shared experience as an essential element in healing, coming together, and learning to value our differences, all while moving forward with strength and vitality.”

President Gandre announced the Black Creators Initiative earlier this summer as a means to foster diversity, equity, and inclusive practices throughout MSM. Following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black Americans by police, MSM launched the initiative, announcing that every concert on MSM’s 2020–21 performance season would feature work by African American creators and/or those from the African Diaspora.

Further to these initiatives, MSM’s faculty, led by Executive Vice President and Provost Joyce Griggs, is taking this year to examine the curriculum and ensure that classroom and performances reflect a more complete representation of artists and creators. The inaugural Artists Scholars roster will promote critical thinking in MSM’s work to address systematic inequities that have historically omitted a diversity of artists from the canon, providing role models for aspiring young musicians and connecting music to other elements of our contemporary society.

Central to her role as one of the inaugural Artist Scholars, pianist Lara Downes will act as the School’s first Artist Citizen in Residence. “MSM has long promoted students’ engagement with community partners,” says Provost Griggs, “and we will use this moment to expand those partnerships and deepen our connections locally, particularly with West Harlem. Lara’s experiences make her the ideal inaugural Artist Citizen.”

Ms. Downes’s contributions will give students space and time to explore the impact of how and why designing programs with more inclusive repertoire is paramount in one’s professional training, creating more collaborative, meaningful, and relevant experiences with community and audiences.

Another manifestation of MSM’s Cultural Inclusion Initiative has been the School’s engagement with Values Partnerships, a D.C.-based social impact agency who will work with MSM to lead community discussions through the year. This dialogue began with an October 8 virtual one-on-one conversation between President Gandre and Joshua DuBois, Values Partnerships founder and leader of President Obama’s Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The Town Hall can be viewed here.

Finally, throughout the current academic year, as it did this past summer, MSM will host listening sessions, forums, and town halls to foster the “consistent dialogue and shared experience” that President Gandre and MSM’s leadership continue to foster.

Among the many new programs that will stem from this inaugural year of Artist Scholars at MSM will be a community reading event followed by a live book club discussion led by Tayari Jones, winner of the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction and author of four novels, including An American Marriage, which was an Oprah Book Club selection in 2018. The discussion will center on Jones’s own An American Marriage, with the author sharing her insights and experiences, and answering questions about the work, which follows a middle-class African American couple in Atlanta whose life is upended when the husband is wrongfully convicted of rape.

 The full inaugural roster of MSM Artist Scholars includes:

  • Gary Bartz: legendary saxophonist
  • LaSaundra Booth: Founder, Wake Forest Community Youth Orchestra, SphinxLEAD
  • Terri Lyne Carrington, drummer; composer; producer; 2020 NEA Jazz Master; Founder and Artistic Director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice
  • Katie Brown and Dalanie Harris: Hosts, The Classically Black Podcast
  • Anthony Davis: Pulitzer Prize-winning composer (The Central Park Five, Amistad, X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X)
  • Bill Doggett: guest lecturer, historian
  • Lara Downes: pianist, activist
  • Tia Fuller: saxophonist; composer; band leader
  • Jarvis Antonio Green: actor; director; Producer, JAG Productions
  • Imani Winds: Grammy-nominated wind quintet (Mark Dover [MM ’12], Monica Ellis [PS ’98], Brandon Patrick George [MM ’10], Jeff Scott (BM ’90), Toyin Spellman Diaz [MM ’97, PS ’98])
  • Tayari Jones: author; winner, 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction for An American Marriage
  • Tesia Kwarteng (MM ’13): mezzo-soprano
  • Alex Laing (MM ’98): Principal Clarinet, Phoenix Symphony; educator
  • M Lamar: composer, performer
  • Erich McMillan-McCall: actor; producer; and advocate
  • Charles Chip McNeal: Director of Diversity, Equity, and Community, San Francisco Opera
  • Garrett McQueen: bassoonist; TRILLOQUY podcast
  • Malcolm J. Merriweather (DMA ’15): conductor, baritone
  • Jasmine Muhammad (MM ’12): soprano
  • Jannina Norpoth (BM ’03): violinist, PUBLIQuartet; SphinxLEAD
  • Kristal Pacific: Director of Social Equity and Grantmaking, Opera America; SphinxLEAD
  • Ken Roberson: choreographer
  • Britton Smith: actor; Artistic Director, The Broadway Advocacy Coalition
  • Adina Williams: Director of Community Engagement and Education, Camille A. Brown

MSM graduates are indicated by inclusion of degree and graduation year.

“As musicians, we are familiar with the idea of practicing to get better,” says MSM’s Smith. “You can’t pick up a violin and suddenly play like [MSM alumna] Kelly Hall-Tompkins. So we are committed to ‘practicing’ these conversations about racial equity, representation, and inclusion in our industry. They are uncomfortable for many at first, but like all practice, if we do it, we’ll improve. We’ll get better.”

For further information, please contact:

  • Alexa Smith, Chief of Staff (Office of the President) and Assistant Vice President for Special Initiatives), at / (917) 493-4477; or
  • Jeff Breithaupt, Vice President for Media and Communications, at / (917) 493-4702.


The mission of the Manhattan School of Music’s Cultural Inclusion Initiative (CII), launched in August 2019 as part of the School’s Strategic Plan 2019–2024 is to foster diversity, equity, and inclusive practices throughout the institution. This is achieved by auditing current practices, identifying areas where additional attention is needed to achieve change, and creating regular discussion forums for students, faculty, and staff.

The CII provides support and opportunities for everyone in the MSM Community to:

  • develop a greater understanding about our own worldview and how it influences our actions;
  • consider how we are positioned in relation to others and recognize differences based on our respective worldviews;
  • seek out opportunities for greater openness to other ideas and behaviors, to other cultures and cultural backgrounds, and to all identities;
  • take risks in our learning by developing greater openness and to learn more about ourselves and those in our Community;
  • take action to promote equity on and off campus.


Founded as a settlement music school by Janet Daniels Schenck in 1918, today Manhattan School of Music is recognized for its more than 950 superbly talented undergraduate and graduate students who come from more than 50 countries and nearly all 50 states; a world-renowned artist-teacher faculty; and innovative curricula. The School is dedicated to the personal, artistic, and intellectual development of aspiring musicians, from its Precollege students through those pursuing postgraduate studies.

Offering classical, jazz, and musical theatre training, MSM grants Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees, as well as the Professional Studies Certificate and Artist Diploma. Additionally, true to MSM’s origins as a music school for children, the Precollege program continues to offer superior music instruction to young musicians between the ages of five and 18. The School also serves some 2,000 New York City schoolchildren through its Arts-in-Education Program, and another 2,000 students through its critically acclaimed Distance Learning Program.


Manhattan School of Music acknowledges that that we gather on the traditional land of the Lenape and Wappinger past and present, and honor with gratitude the land itself and the people who have stewarded it throughout the generations. This calls us to commit to continuing to learn how to be better stewards of the land we inhabit as well.

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