William Thomas ('74 M.F.A.) has done extensive research on the music of the African-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, leading to American premieres of the composer's opera Dreamlovers, A Piano Quintet, and Nonet. Other performances of Coleridge-Taylor's works by Thomas included appearances at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the New England Conservatory of Music, the African Meeting House, and Boston’s WGBH-FM. He was a founding member of the Coleridge Ensemble, dedicated to the performance and recording of compositions by African-American and women composers, and released a world premiere CD of Coleridge-Taylor's chamber works and another featuring the world premiere of string quartets by Chevalier de Saint-Georges.
Bill retired in 2008 as Music Department Chair at Phillips Academy, Andover (MA) where he conducted the Cantata Choir and the Academy Symphony and Chamber Orchestras for 36 years. He served as Music Director of the Cambridge Community Chorus from 1990-1998, and he also served for three years as Artistic Director for Project STEP, an organization providing string instrument training to African-American and Latino children in the greater Boston area.
Upon his retirement, he moved back to his hometown of Lexington, KY where he has led the effort to purchase and renovate First African Baptist Church, a building on the National Register of Historic Places financed and constructed by slaves in the 1850’s. Bill and his 10-member foundation board plan to renovate the old sanctuary into a 400-seat concert hall which would host performances of African-American music. He would also like to start a similar program to Boston’s Project STEP in Lexington, using the church as its primary administrative and teaching space. An art gallery and museum are also planned for the historic space.
The building is in good condition, but will take about $4 million to buy, renovate and enlarge for the foundation's uses. Another several million dollars will be needed to operate and endow the building and its programs. “Fiscally, we're in tough shoes, but this building is a national treasure,” he said of his foundation's ambitious fund-raising goal. “To know that folks in bondage committed their resources, which were so limited, to build such a remarkable structure inspires us to do great things with it."