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Classical 101

Pianist Lara Downes celebrates Black composers, both past and present

Lara Downes sitting at the piano
Rik Keller Photography

Pianist Lara Downes is on a mission to lift up the music of voices that have languished in the shadows for too long. Her recording series Rising Sun Music features music by Black composers, both past and present.

The name of the project comes from the lyrics to the hymn "Lift Every Voice and Sing:"

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on ’til victory is won.

In addition to her work as a pianist, Downes is a prolific curator, arranger, and the creative force behind Rising Sun Music.

Her latest project is a full-length recording of Scott Joplin’s music, Reflections: Scott Joplin Reconsidered.

Last year, she released an EP nearly every month. Phenomenal Women marked women’s history month in March 2021 with a collection of music by Black women including Florence Price and Margaret Bonds.

Migration Music followed in the fall, a series inspired by stories of the great migration, the exodus of Black Americans out of the rural South during the first part of the 20th century.

Each recording offers not only solo piano music performed by Downes, but also collaborations with other instrumentalists and singers. The Brooklyn Youth Chorus appears on the Joplin album, singing music from his opera Treemonisha.

Downes has also collaborated across musical genres and art forms, with artists including singer-songwriter Judy Collins, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, composer John Corigliano, poet Rita Dove, and composer/bandleader Jon Batiste.

Learn more about Lara Downes on her website, and hear her music on Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music.

Classical 101 Black History Month