For the first time, an all-Black orchestra will play the Hollywood Bowl
A few years ago, musician Ric’key Pageot was driving down Highland Avenue in the late afternoon when the Hollywood Bowl marquee caught his eye. The blocky, black letters were advertising a performance of “Afro-American Symphony” by William Grant Still. In 1936, Still made history as the first Black composer to conduct a major American orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, playing his own music at the Hollywood Bowl.
Pageot, an accomplished pianist, keyboardist and accordionist who has toured with the likes of Diana Ross, Cher and Madonna, had never heard of Still — and was intrigued to listen to his symphony. “When I got home, I researched him,” he says, “and that was my first discovery of classical music written by a Black composer.”
As Pageot explored Still’s oeuvre, he was struck by his compositions; they were unlike anything he had ever heard in classical music. “The storytelling in the harmonies, and the melodies are noticeably different. It’s definitely rooted in blues and jazz while still keeping it classical, but his harmonies and melodies are so lush that it’s just a different feeling that’s almost indescribable,” Pageot says. “You can hear the Black story behind the music. You can hear the African language in it, and to have that performed by a traditional symphony orchestra is a juxtaposition I wasn’t used to hearing before.”
After encountering Still’s work, Pageot kept digging. He learned more about the lives and careers of Black and multiracial composers, including Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges and Florence Price, dating back as far as the 18th century. He came to realize that many of these musical luminaries had been lost to history, some intentionally so. “People don’t know that Mozart and Beethoven had Black contemporaries who were writing at the same time,” he says. “But all of those works ... sometimes they were destroyed, or they didn’t even get published or they were burned.”
This formative experience led to Pageot developing a docuseries about the history of Black and multiracial composers in classical music with his producing partner, Scott Power. The docuseries, whose working title is “Shades in Classical Music,” is being shopped to production companies. “There are so many fascinating stories,” says Pageot. “It’s up to our generation to pass the torch forward so that the next generation is not omitted from the opportunity of learning about these composers.”
Pageot worked on another project that centers Black artists in the music canon this weekend: On Juneteenth, Pageot will join the Re-Collective Orchestra — with music direction by Adam Blackstone and Questlove; the Hollywood Bowl’s principal conductor Thomas Wilkins; and multihyphenate bandleader Derrick Hodge leading an array of special guests including multiple Grammy-winning pianist and composer Robert Glasper, the Roots and Earth, Wind & Fire — for a celebration of Black culture. The show, which also will include a performance of one of Still’s compositions and “Starburst” by composer-violinist Jessie Montgomery, marks the first time an all-Black symphony orchestra will play the Hollywood Bowl in the venue’s 101-year history.
Formed in 2018 by composer Matt Jones and violinist Stephanie Matthews, the Re-Collective Orchestra aims to elevate the musicianship of Black classical musicians and Black composers. Its first undertaking was a remake of “All the Stars,” the Academy Award-nominated lead single from the “Black Panther” film soundtrack performed by Kendrick Lamar and SZA (who both co-wrote the track with Sounwave and Al Shux).
Coincidentally, Glasper met and befriended actor Chadwick Boseman, who played the Marvel superhero in the film, at the Hollywood Bowl five years ago. Glasper says he’s especially looking forward to playing his song “Black Superhero” — the lead single from his most recent record “Black Radio III” — during the performance on Juneteenth. The performance will feature Killer Mike, BJ the Chicago Kid and other special guests. “[Boseman was] the only Black superhero I actually knew,” Glasper says. “Playing ‘Black Superhero’ at the Hollywood Bowl means something even more now.”
Since its inception, the Re-Collective Orchestra has also collaborated with artists including John Legend, Adele and Hans Zimmer. Pageot performed with the orchestra at the Soraya in 2021, when they joined composer and drummer Stewart Copeland onstage to reimagine the Police’s music. The event profoundly affected Pageot. “Whenever I‘ve played with an orchestra, it’s always been a full white orchestra,” he says. “But to play in an orchestra surrounded by people who look like me, it was a unique experience. … The level of musicianship, the camaraderie, the familiarity … it was all beautiful, and I’m really looking forward to feeling that again on such a big stage ...
“It’s groundbreaking,” Glasper adds. “I feel like I’m a part of history now, and to do this music and to be thinking about my ancestors and the blood, sweat and tears they suffered, and that they are the shoulders I stand on and the reason why I am here, means so much to me.”
With the Juneteenth celebration hovering close on the horizon, Wilkins, who became the Hollywood Bowl’s first Black principal conductor in 2014, is eager to take the stage with the orchestra. He says a conversation about the event began last summer but plans for the show really solidified once the Re-Collective Orchestra was on board. “I love that it demonstrates that Black folks can play classical music and that this endeavor is a significant part, not just a part, of this institution’s history,” Wilkins says.
Wilkins emphasizes that he sees himself as a conductor, not a Black conductor, though he recognizes the significance of his position. “A lot of young African American conductors say I was like a beacon for them, to show that it was possible, and I’m certainly happy about that,” Wilkins says. “When young kids who look like me see me on the podium, they realize this is another possibility for their lives.”
It was the lack of exposure to Black role models in classical music that guided Pageot’s path. He began playing piano at 8 years old and studied classical music until his college years, when he switched to jazz — a shift he attributes to a lack of Black representation in his classical musical education. “I studied classical music for 10 years, and I was never told about any Black composers. Why is that? That can’t happen,” Pageot says. “In hindsight, I think if I had known about all these Black composers who contributed to classical music maybe I would have continued. Representation matters.”
'Juneteenth: A Global Celebration of Freedom"
Where: Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles
When: 4:30-8 p.m. Sunday
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