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African American Music Festival

February 1-3, 2018

The Penn State African American Music Festival celebrates the music of African Americans and African American composers. Typically occurring in February (Black History Month), 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.all in logo

Now in its 23nd year, the 2018 festival will feature guest conductor Herbert Jones (Heritage Gospel Chorale of Pittsburgh). In addition, alumni of Essence of Joy will perform as soloists on the concerts occurring on Thursday, February 1 and Friday, February 2. Alumni performers include:

  • Rebecca Zeigler, soprano
  • Kiena Williams, soprano
  • Jason Adams, guitar and voice
  • Cori Avery Maldonado, baritone
  • Brandon Miller, bass/baritone
  • Melanie Gerald, soprano

Two additional Essence of Joy alumni will take part in the Essence of Joy concert occurring on February 3. Mark Lehnowsky (FL) and Donte Ford (TX) will return to the University Park campus to conduct works they either composed or arranged for the ensemble.

The African American Music Festival is sponsored by the Penn State School of Music and the University Park Allocation Committee. All events are free and open to the public.

Note: This event is part of the initiative titled “All In at Penn State: A Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion.”


Thursday, February 1, 12:10 p.m., Bach's Lunch in Eisenhower Chapel

Thursday, February 1, 6:00 p.m., 110 Music Building I

Friday, February 2, 2:30 p.m., Common Hour

Friday, February 2, 6:00 p.m., 110 Music Building I

Saturday, February 3 1:00 p.m., Essence of Joy, Worship Hall of the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center

Herb JonesDr. Herbert V.R.P. Jones is one of the nation's foremost figures in choral conducting and pedagogy and an expert in the intersection between theology and musical expression. A southern transplant to Pennsylvania, Jones has cultivated a broad-based, multifaceted career as a choral conductor, educator, operatic and oratorio bass, liturgical dancer, orator and pastor, teaching and performing across the United States and Europe.

Jones has taught in the public schools of Mississippi (grades 6-12), the private high school sector (Piney Woods School, Mississippi, The Neighborhood Academy, Pennsylvania), and colleges and universities in North Dakota, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi.

Jones is considered a leading authority on the music of Moses George Hogan. His doctoral dissertation, “The African-American Spiritual and Gospel Song: The Musical Contributions of Moses George Hogan, Composer and Arranger,” is the only definitive work on the life, music, and compositional style of the composer.

Jones has performed in operas, musicals, theater, and on the dance stages of America and abroad. In the dance world, he has studied and performed classical ballet, modern dance, and liturgical (Sacred) dance and mime. He is a former student of the “Graham Technique” (dance technique of Martha Graham) and, while in high school, was a member of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater of Harlem apprenticeship program. He has choreographed for ballet companies and dance programs across the United States

An ordained Minister of Music, Dr. Jones is executive assistant to the Academic Dean of the Gospel Music Workshop of America, Inc. (GMWA), and is a board member of the Afro-American Music Institute (AAMI), Professionals for Christ, Inc., Pentecostal Temple Development Corporation, and RAISE Academy. He is a retired music department faculty member of Community College of Allegheny County Department of Music, Allegheny Campus.

He is an active member of the American Choral Directors Association, the National Association for Music Education, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, Tau Beta Sigma, and the National Guild of Sacred Dancers. He has published articles in the Mississippi ACDA Mississippi Music Teachers Journal, the Academic Division of GMWA, the Milestone Christian Bookstore Newsletter, and Black Research Journal.

Dr. Jones currently serves as Minister of Music at Bethany Baptist Church, adjunct faculty at the Center for Urban Biblical Ministry, and is the founder/director of the Heritage Gospel Chorale of Pittsburgh. He continues to maintain an active schedule conducting seminars and workshops, guest conducting, and adjudicating choral festivals and competitions.

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.