When he enrolled at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, pianist Awadagin Pratt became the first student in the school’s history to receive diplomas in three performance areas — piano, violin and conducting. He would go on to win the 1992 Naumburg International Piano Competition and receive an Avery Fisher Career Grant.
Despite his mastery of music by Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, as well as all his awards and accolades, he still faces one inescapable truth: He’s a Black man in America.
In an interview with WXXI, Pratt said one afternoon he was late to class at the Peabody Institute. While running to get to class, an officer chased him down. Even while security guards assured the officer that Pratt was a student at the school, the officer demanded identification, and he ended up getting arrested and spent the night in jail.
During COVID lockdowns, he developed a one-hour program, Awadagin Pratt: Black in America, that speaks directly to the challenges he overcame and how they are still happening today.
While he wants to tell these stories so people are more aware of the pervasive nature of negative police interactions for Black people, he’s also working to make classical music a more welcoming space for Black musicians. That’s why he started the Nina Simone Piano Competition in June.
The goal of the competition is to “give young Black American pianists, ages 10 to 35, a chance to shine in front of a distinguished audience of potential mentors, fellow musicians and concert presenters.”
Host: Vernon Neal
Producer: Dan Nass
Writers: Andrea Blain and Scott Blankenship
Executive Producer: Julie Amacher
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