The College of Arts and Architecture
  • AA Music Festival

2016 Festival

January 28-30, 2016

The 2016 African American Music Festival is titled "Homegrown," and includes five performances by soloists and ensembles from the Penn State School of Music.

The festival kicks off on January 28 with a recital of music written by African-American composers and performed by undergraduate and graduate voice students during the School of Music's weekly Bach's Lunch program. The Thursday evening concert features the University Choir, the Graduate Brass Quintet, and trumpet faculty member Langston J. Fitzgerald III performing Ulysses Kay's "Tromba."

Two concerts highlight the January 29 schedule. The School of Music's Common Hour at 2:30 p.m. features Essence of Joy, Trombone Choir, and Centre Dimensions Jazz Ensemble. That evening, the dynamic pairing of tuba euphonium professor Velvet Brown and School of Theatre faculty member Akika Kikora Franklin will present their MOJATUBA project, a performance fusion of tuba and dance. 

The festival will conclude with a performance by Essence of Joy on Saturday, January 30 at 1:00 p.m. in the Worship Hall of the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center. The ensemble's program, "Down Memory Lane," features repertoire from previous years of performances as Essence of Joy celebrates its 25th anniversary.

Admission for all performances is free and tickets are not required. For further information, contact Anthony Leach at 814-865-6521 or

Participating Ensembles

University Choir; Steven Hankle, conductor

Trombone Choir; Mark L. Lusk, conductor

Centre Dimensions Jazz Ensemble; Dan Yoder, music director

Essence of Joy; Anthony Leach, music director

Penn State Athletic Band; Gregory Drane, conductor

Penn State Graduate Brass Quintet

Participating Soloists

Langston J. Fitzgerald III, trumpet

Velvet Brown, tuba

Marcelyn Lebowitz, mezzo-soprano

Timmi Williams, mezzo-soprano

Simon Nam, bass

Austen Auriemma, tenor

Daniel A. Wells, tenor

Performance Schedule

Thursday, January 28; 12:10 p.m. (Eisenhower Chapel)

Thursday, January 28; 6:00 p.m. (Esber Recital Hall)

Friday, January 29; 2:30 p.m. (Esber Recital Hall)

Friday, January 29; 6:00 p.m. (Esber Recital Hall)

Saturday, January 30, 1:00 p.m (Pasquerilla Spiritual Center)

The Penn State African American Music Festival celebrates the music of African Americans and African American composers. Typically occurring Thursday-Saturday on the first weekend of February, it includes performances by Penn State faculty and students as well as guest artists. The festival concludes with a concert on Saturday afternoon featuring Penn State's Essence of Joy.

In February, 1995, Essence of Joy presented the first concert titled  “Celebration of African American Spirituals.” Since that time, the event has developed into a collaborative venture in the School of Music. High school and guest collegiate choirs/bands, as well as professional performing artists, have also participated since 2003.

In 1997, Anthony Leach coordinated the first Symposium on the African American Spiritual, involving guest artists, lectures, and choral performances. In 2000, Leach initiated conversations with several African American choral colleagues regarding a commissioning project. In 2003, the annual Celebration of African American Spirituals Concert featured commissioned choral compositions by Glenn Burleigh, Roland Carter, Marvin Curtis, Keith Hampton, Moses Hogan, Robert Morris, and Rosephanye Powell. All of the composers, with the exception of Moses Hogan, were present in University Park for the premiere of their works.

Essence of Joy presented these compositions again at the 2003 national American Choral Directors Association convention in New York City and at the annual conference of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association in Hershey. Moses Hogan died February 14, 2003 during Essence Of Joy’s concert at ACDA.

The year 2009 brought a second commissioning project, and the festival hosted premieres of original works written for Essence of Joy by M. Roger Holland, II, Damon Dandridge, and Raymond Wise. Penn State students have also contributed original works and arrangements that have been premiered by EOJ since 2001. To date, 23 compositions have been written or arranged for performance at the African American Music Festival.

In 2009, the name of the festival was changed from "Celebration of African American Spirituals" to the "African American Music Festival" in order to be more inclusive of the variety of music offered by the performers.

The festival is coordinated by Anthony Leach.