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2014 Festival

The 2014 Penn State African American Music Festival, now in its 19th year, includes six events celebrating the music of African-Americans and African-American composers. Penn State students and faculty members will be joined by guest artists Elisabeth Stevens, soprano; Diane L. White-Clayton, soprano; the Cheyney University Concert choir under the direction of Marques L. A. Garrett; and the Lincoln University Concert Choir conducted by Edryn Coleman in a three-day exploration of this exhilarating repertoire.

The festival is coordinated by Penn State professor Anthony Leach. All events will occur in Music Building I or the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on the University Park campus of Penn State. They are free of charge and open to the public.

Funding for the African American Music Festival has been provided from the University Park Allocation Committee and the Penn State School of Music.

Thursday, Jan. 30
12:10 p.m., Pasquerilla Spiritual Center’s Eisenhower Chapel 
The festival kicks off with a lecture recital by School of Music senior Eric Williamson. Titled "African American Composers of the 20th Century and Beyond," the program will feature music by composers of musical theater, instrumental music, and classical vocal music. Cultural and historical research will be presented regarding each of the composers represented. Performers include faculty member Velvet Brown, members of the tuba studio, and student vocalists Kiena Williams and Eric Williamson.

Thursday, Jan. 30
6 p.m., Esber Recital Hall

Guest sopranos Elisabeth Stevens and Diane L. White-Clayton will perform a recital of solo vocal music composed by African American composers. They will be assisted by Yo Jung Han, piano.

Friday, Jan. 31 
2:30 p.m., Esber Recital Hall
The festival’s guest artists will provide a short concert of music by African American composers during the School of Music's Common Hour. The performance features sopranos Elisabeth Stevens and Diane L. White-Clayton, the Cheyney University Concert Choir under the direction of Marques L. A. Garrett, and the Lincoln University Concert Choir conducted by Edryn Coleman.

Friday, Jan. 31
3:30 p.m., 110 Music Building I
Guest singers Elisabeth Stevens and Diane L. White-Clayton will present a voice masterclass and lead discussion regarding traditions of African American vocal music. Penn State voice students will perform, followed by stylistic suggestions and critique.

Friday, Jan. 31
6 p.m., Esber Recital Hall
The Cheyney University Concert Choir under the direction of Marques L. A. Garrett, and the Lincoln University Choir conducted by Edryn Coleman will present “United in Song,” a concert of choral music composed or arranged by African Americans. The choirs are accompanied by Toni Caldwell-Hall and M. Helen Meacham.

Saturday, February 1
1:00 p.m., Pasquerilla Spiritual Center’s Worship Hall 
The festival comes to a rousing conclusion with a concert by Penn State's Essence of Joy, joined by the Cheyney University Concert Choir, Lincoln University Concert Choir, and guest soloists Elisabeth Stevens and Diane L. White-Clayton.

Essence of Joy is conducted by Anthony Leach. Student conductors are Jo Lash and Donté Ford. The choir is choreographed by School of Theatre faculty member Aquila Kikora Franklin, assisted by student Eric Williamson. Percussionists are faculty member Darrin Thornton, joined by students Oluwatobi Jewoola and Donté Ford. Neal S. Holter plays electric bass.

The Feb. 1 concert is available through live streaming video.


Essence of Joy was created in 1991 by Anthony Leach. The choir performs sacred and secular music from the African/African American traditions. Annual campus events include fall and spring concerts, as well as the Essence of JoyAfrican American Music Festival (February) and Our Gift in Song (December). The choir involves undergraduate and graduate students from all academic programs at Penn State, and has performed throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois, and New York City.

Essence has performed for the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association Conference (1995, 1997, 2003), the eastern division conference of the Music Educators National Conference (1997), the eastern division conference of the American Choral Directors Association (2002), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (2000), the Schomburg Museum of Black American Culture in New York City (1998, 1999, 2001), and national conferences of the American Choral Directors Association (1999, 2003).

The choir has released four compact discs: The Soul and Spirit of Essence (April 1998); Essence "Live" (April 2000); Lift Every Voice and Sing and The Light, released during the 2002-03 academic year. The choir made its first European tour in June 2001 with concert performances in Kracow, Poland, and Prague, Czech Republic, and has also toured the Pacific Rim. They will perform at the eastern division conference of the American Choral Directors Association in February, 2014.


Elisabeth StevensDramatic soprano Elisabeth Stevens delivers impressive performances that have been featured in Philadelphia on CBS news, NBC10, and New York’s WQXR. She has been hailed at home and abroad for her elegant musicianship, majestic presence, and spectacular voice. In 2009, she claimed the top prize at the Concorso Internazionale Magda Olivero, the Concorso Internazionale per Giovani Cantanti Lirici Riccardo Zandonai, and the Concorso Internazionale “Alfredo Giacomotti” where she also won the audience prize. She also placed second in the Concorso Lirico Giovanni Martinelli-Aureliano Pertile. In 2008, she won third place in the China International Voice Competition in Ningbo, China and, in 2007, she won second place as well as the audience prize in the Concorso Internazionale di Canto Lirico Rocca delle Macíe in Chianti, Italy.

Stevens’ operatic repertoire includes the title roles in Aida, Ariadne auf Naxos, Suor Angelica, as well as the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro, and the Witch in Hansel and Gretel. She excels in concert repertoire, and has performed the world premieres of four new works for soprano on texts by Sonia Sanchez with the Network for New Music Ensemble. She has also been the soprano soloist in major concert works, including Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Haydn’s Mass in Time of War, Handel’s Messiah, and Mendelssohn’s Elijah. Her powerful voice has garnered invitations to sing at the inaugural celebration of Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and at the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C.


A native of Washington D.C., Diane L. White-Clayton was performing by age four and directing choirs by age nine; she was arranging and composing by eleven. She holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. in Diane L. White-Claytoncomposition from the University of California at Santa Barbara. She graduated with honors from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in music with emphases in composition, voice, and piano. Prior to graduate studies, Dr. White-Clayton was awarded the coveted Rotary Scholarship for a year's study as an Ambassador of Goodwill to France. As a Rotary Scholar, she studied classical piano at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris and performed solo gospel concerts throughout Europe.

Affectionately known as "Dr. Dee", Diane travels extensively as a vocalist, pianist, composer, conductor, workshop clinician, and speaker. She has held numerous positions at universities, colleges, and churches across the country, including the Washington Performing Arts Society, Appalachian State University, Westmont College, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Grinnell College, and New Christ Memorial Church under the legendary Pastor Andraé Crouch. She is currently Director of Choral Music at the renowned Faithful Central Bible Church in Los Angeles, California under the leadership of Pastor Kenneth C. Ulmer where she founded the acclaimed Sacred Praise Chorale.

As a composer, Dr. Dee is most known for her choral anthems and has won much acclaim with her tremendous stylistic diversity, ranging from atonal classical pieces to contemporary gospel. A classically trained pianist, she weds her virtuosic, mellow, gospel style with her soprano voice, stretching in a three-and-a-half octave range. Her performances captivate audiences, transporting listeners into glorious worship with her unique blend classical and gospel.

Diane is married to the love of her life, former recording and touring R&B percussionist, Joe Louis Clayton of Los Angeles.


Cheney University Concert ChoirThe Cheyney University Concert Choir is the official choral ensemble pf Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. They perform for major on-campus functions as well as travel to neighboring churches and businesses to spread good cheer through music. The choir’s repertoire spans music of over 400 years from early composers such as Thomas Tallis and John Wilbye to living composers such as Roland Carter and Raymond Wise. The choir performs music of various choral genres including standard choral repertoire as well as Negro spirituals. Currently, the choir is under the direction of Marques L. A. Garrett and accompanied by Toni Caldwell-Hall.

Founded in 1837 as the Institute for Colored Youth, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania is known as the first institution for higher learning for African Americans. The founding of Cheyney University was made possible by Richard Humphreys, a Quaker philanthropist who bequeathed $10,000, one tenth of his estate, to design and establish a school to educate the descendents of the African race.Born on a plantation in the West Indies, Richard Humphreys came to Philadelphia in 1764. Having witnessed the struggles of African Americans competing unsuccessfully for jobs due to the influx of immigrants, he became interested in their plight. In 1829, race riots heightened and it was that year Richard Humphreys wrote his will and charged thirteen fellow Quakers to design an institution: "...to instruct the descendents of the African Race in school learning, in the various branches of the mechanic Arts, trades and Agriculture, in order to prepare and fit and qualify them to act as teachers...."

The school began in Philadelphia and successfully provided free classical education for qualified young people. In 1902, the Institute moved to George Cheyney's farm, 25 miles west of Philadelphia. In 1913, the name was changed to Cheyney State Teachers College; in 1921, the State Normal School at Cheyney; and in 1959, Cheyney State College. In 1983, Cheyney joined the State System of Higher Education as Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. Today, Cheyney University students represent a variety of races, cultures, and nationalities who receive education instruction.


Lincoln University Concert ChoirUnder the direction of Mr. Edryn Coleman, the Lincoln University Concert Choir is a select ensemble of singers. The majority of the singers in the ensemble are undergraduate music majors, membership is open to all students at the university through an audition process. The Concert Choir rehearses four times a week on vocal music with an emphasis on African American tradition. The Lincoln University Concert Choir gives several concerts each semester, and has been invited to perform at choral conventions, the choir has achieved a reputation of excellence on the regional, state, and national level.

Lincoln University is the United States' first degree-granting historically black university. Founded as a private university, since 1972 it is a public institution. It is located near the town of Oxford in southern Chester County, Pennsylvania. The Lincoln University provides undergraduate and graduate coursework to approximately 2,500 students. As former president Dr. Horace Mann Bond noted in his book Education for Freedom: A History of Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, with the college's founding in 1854, "This was the first institution founded anywhere in the world to provide a higher education in the arts and sciences for youth of African descent." The University is a member-school of Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

The Lincoln University has an impressive list of notable alumni which includes: U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall; Harlem Renaissance poet, Langston Hughes; and musical legend, Cab Calloway. Today, Lincoln University provides a liberal arts and science-based undergraduate core curriculum and select graduate programs to prepare students of every race and nationality.