Andrew Harmon


 

 

Atlanta's African American Philharmonic Orchestra
by Alfreda Asbury

When you say “philharmonic orchestra”, the first thoughts that usually come to most people’s minds are the names Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky and, of course, elevator music. However, after listening to Atlanta’s African American Philharmonic and Jazz Orchestra, you may want to add the names of James Brown, Duke Ellington, Luther Vandross and Count Basie to that distinguished list. These multi-talented musicians can play it all. They’ve performed for Nelson and Winnie Mandela, Bishop Tutu, The Trumpet Awards, Former Ambassador Andrew Young, Muhammad Ali and the African Delegation for the 1996 Olympics — just to name a few.

Their first performance, in 1990, at the Atlanta Civic Center was attended by 4,000 people and included sixty-five orchestra members, 120 voices comprised of ten church choirs and the Morris Brown College Choir. Coretta Scott King, Maynard Jackson, Jesse Hill and the Reverend Joseph E. Lowery were just some of the Atlanta luminaries that attended their debut.

Founded on February 12, 1988 by John T. Peek, his wife Carrie Whaley Peek and musician Tommy Stewart, the African American Philharmonic Orchestra (AAPO) was formed to provide a showcase for professional musicians and composers of African American descent within the Atlanta area. According to a 1986 article by the Rockefeller Foundation, there were only 186 black musicians in the entire country who were qualified to participate in major orchestras. At the time the AAPO was founded, there were only four all-black orchestras in the country and at least one, or no more than two, black musicians were playing in most major orchestras.

The AAPO provides a performance venue for the presentation of musicians that would, otherwise, be denied the opportunity to perform in fully staged orchestra concerts. The musicians are experts on their respective instruments. Each member has auditioned and has been carefully selected to build an orchestra that exhibits a complete range of artistry on the featured contemporary, classical, jazz, and gospel works. It was founded under the umbrella of Music South Corporation to respond to the musical needs and interests of the metropolitan Atlanta community.

John T. Peek, founder and conductor of the AAPO, has been a musician for over sixty years. He became interested in playing the trumpet at a very young age because his father was a trumpet player and he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. John has always thought of himself as a leader and formed his first band at the age of fifteen while he was still in high school. During the summers of his junior and senior years in high school, he toured with The Carolina Cotton Pickers and played with greats like Sara Vaughn, Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine.
 


 

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