Black History Month event explores the sounds of African-American jazz, classical and gospel music



“Unsung: The Exploration of the Sounds of Black Folk” featured performances by vocalist Calesta “Callie” Day and pianist and composer Isaac Cates, in collaboration with Emorja Roberson, doctoral student in Sacred Music; Alex Mansour, senior in the Music Department; the Notre Dame Folk Choir and director J.J Wright; the Notre Dame Children’s Choir; and a community choir composed of area church members. The Sacred Music Program, in collaboration with Campus Ministry, the Graduate School, the Department of Africana Studies, the Office of Community Relations and the Program of Liberal Arts, hosted an evening of African-American jazz, classical and gospel music Feb. 8 (Friday) as part of Black History Month celebrations at the University of Notre Dame.

Audience Wide Small

Roberson, a graduate of the Master of Sacred Music Program at Notre Dame, organized the event with support from Mark Doerries, associate professor of the practice of conducting and head of the Graduate Studio in Choral Conducting in Sacred Music.

“What we were trying to convey was the fact that African-Americans are not one-dimensional people; we can do a lot” musically, Roberson said. “It was just showing people what we can bring to the table and how our history is very relevant today.”


“It was beautiful. We had so many positive responses because it was so new,” Roberson said. “And based on those responses, I’m pretty sure we’ll be doing it again next year.”The event drew a diverse crowd of over seven hundred to the Leighton Concert Hall at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center for 90 minutes of music as well as dance from Uzima, an Afro-Caribbean dance company based out of South Bend.

Doerries said, “’Unsung’ united musicians across racial, religious, age, ability and economic divides in an evening of music that brought the audience to their feet in praise, prayer and wonder. The music of African-American composers and performers is too often underperformed in academic venues and viewed as second-class art. Emorja Roberson and his collaborators shattered this stereotype before the packed and diverse audience of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.”

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Originally published by Erin Blasko at on February 25, 2019.