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Barbara Wright-Pryor

Classical soloist, educator, and music critic Barbara Wright-Pryor was born Barbara Wright in Stamps, Arkansas, to Bernyce Eleanor Hayes Wright and Joseph Dudley Wright. Growing up in Chicago’s Ida B. Wells Projects, she idolized Marian Anderson. Wright-Pryor attended Willard School and graduated from Wendell Phillips Elementary and High Schools in 1951. A mezzo-contralto, Wright-Pryor studied voice as she pursued an undergraduate degree from Roosevelt University, Chicago State University, and the Chicago Conservatory of Music, where she majored in vocal performance. She received her M.A. degree, magna cum laude, from Roosevelt University.

As a mezzo-contralto recitalist and soloist of oratorio, her first performance was with the Dorian Choral Ensemble. In 1961, she performed with Irving Bunton’s Chicago Concert Chorale. Duke Ellington featured the group in his 1963 My People musical revue, celebrating the accomplishments of Blacks in the one hundred years since Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1968, Wright-Pryor was choral director for Ellington’s Sacred Concert. Over the years, Wright-Pryor has performed with the members of Chicago’s Lyric Opera, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, South Shore Philharmonic, Southside Family Chamber Orchestra and String Quartet, and the Chicago Park District Orchestra. Her concert stage performances have featured Sir Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time; Rossini’s Stabat Mater; J. S. Bach’s Cantata No. 54 for Contralto and Orchestra, Christmas Oratorio, and Mass in B Minor; Handel’s Messiah and the works of Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Verdi. Wright-Pryor has performed Saul of Tarsus by Betty Jackson King, and in addition to Betty Jackson King, composers Rollo Dilworth, Barry K. Elmore, Robert L. Morris and Howard Savage have dedicated compositions to her. For the 1998 Sixteenth International Duke Ellington Conference, Wright-Pryor served as producer/director and vocalist to restage Ellington’s lost 1963 My People musical revue. Her musical accomplishments were achieved while serving for thirty-five years as counselor-educator with the Chicago Public Schools and adjunct professor at DePaul University.

A charter member of the Community Advisory Council of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), Wright-Pryor helps monitor the CSO’s progress in achieving its diversity agenda. She also serves on the Artistic Planning Committee of the Chicago Symphony. Wright-Pryor is a member of the Board of Trustees for the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and for over a decade, she has been president of the Chicago Music Association, which was founded as the first branch of the National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc. in 1919. Wright-Pryor was honored by the Society for the Advancement of the Vivian G. Harsh Collection of Afro-American History and Literature of the Chicago Public Library in 1999, and they have requested her papers. She was inducted into Wendell Phillips Elementary and High Schools’ Hall of Fame and received an honorary Doctor of Music degree in 1999. An expert and critic of African American contributions to classical music, Wright-Pryor serves as the classical music critic for the Chicago Crusader.

A soloist at Northfield Community and St. Mark United Methodist Churches, Wright-Pryor is married to organist George Williams.

Accession Number

A2006.106

Sex

Female

Interview Date

9/24/2006

Last Name

Wright-Pryor

Maker Category
Schools

Wendell Phillips Academy High School

Wendell Phillips Elementary School

Roosevelt University

Chicago State University

Chicago Conservatory of Music

Willard Elementary School

First Name

Barbara

Birth City, State, Country

Stamps

HM ID

WRI02

Favorite Season

Fall, Spring

State

Arkansas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Southern California

Favorite Quote

You Can Do Anything That You Want To Do. It Takes Work.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

5/30/1934

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

School counselor and classical singer Barbara Wright-Pryor (1934 - ) was a classical mezzo-contralto soloist. In addition to her singing career, Wright-Pryor taught in the Chicago Public Schools, was a member of the Board of Trustees for the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, served as president of the Chicago Music Association, and was a music critic for the Chicago Crusader.

Employment

Chicago Public Schools

Chicago Crusader

DePaul University

Favorite Color

Green, Pink

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Barbara Wright-Pryor's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Barbara Wright-Pryor lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes her mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes her mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes her mother's education in Hope, Arkansas

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes her mother's education at Arkadelphia Presbyterian Academy

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describers her maternal uncles

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes her family's connection with Maya Angelou

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes Maya Angelou's family in Stamps, Arkansas, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes Maya Angelou's family in Stamps, Arkansas, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes how her parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes her family's musical heritage

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes her family's move to Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Barbara Wright-Pryor reflects upon the negative portrayal of Stamps, Arkansas

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Barbara Wright-Pryor recalls her homes in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes her parents' separation

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes her parents' professions in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Barbara Wright-Pryor remembers the community in the Ida B. Wells Homes, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Barbara Wright-Pryor remembers the community in the Ida B. Wells Homes, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Barbara Wright-Pryor remembers Chicago's Wendell Phillips Elementary School

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Barbara Wright-Pryor remembers Chicago's Wendell Phillips High School

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes her high school extracurricular activities

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Barbara Wright-Pryor reflects upon her high school experience in Chicago

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Barbara Wright-Pryor remembers hearing William Warfield sing

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes her marriage and college education

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Barbara Wright-Pryor remembers Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes how voices change with age

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Barbara Wright-Pryor recalls her performances in the Chicago church circuit

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Barbara Wright-Pryor remembers working with Duke Ellington, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Barbara Wright-Pryor remembers working with Duke Ellington, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Barbara Wright-Pryor recalls recreating Duke Ellington's 'My People', pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Barbara Wright-Pryor recalls recreating Duke Ellington's 'My People', pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Barbara Wright-Pryor shares the history of the Chicago Music Association, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Barbara Wright-Pryor shares the history of the Chicago Music Association, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Barbara Wright-Pryor recalls her work with Theodore Charles Stone

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes Theodore Charles Stone's career

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes the history of African American composers

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes how African American composers were ignored

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Barbara Wright-Pryor explains the differences between jazz and classical music

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Barbara Wright-Pryor lists her favorite composers and genres of music

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Barbara Wright-Pryor reflects upon her life

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Barbara Wright-Pryor reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Barbara Wright-Pryor talks about her children

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Barbara Wright-Pryor recalls a former student at George T. Donoghue Elementary School

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Barbara Wright-Pryor describes how she would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

6$3

DATitle
Barbara Wright-Pryor remembers working with Duke Ellington, pt. 1
Barbara Wright-Pryor shares the history of the Chicago Music Association, pt. 1
Transcript
In 1961, Irving Bunton, who is now, he's a retired supervisor of music with the Chicago Public Schools, but he formulated, called together singers and colleagues of his to form a musical unit called Chicago Concert Choral and we did sacred works, Poulenc [Francis Poulenc] 'Mass,' ['Mass in G Major'] we did various, Mozart [Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart] 'Requiem,' we did various oratorios and classical works similar to what the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus does, but this was an opportunity for blacks who were classically trained or interested in seeing classical music, for a great number of them to come together in music. At that time, in 1962, Duke Ellington was in the process of, he had been commissioned to write a show to commemorate the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation and our organization, our Chicago Concert Choral was one of the choral groups that went to audition to be the chorus in this particular work and Duke selected us as the choral group to appear in his musical revue entitled 'My People.' And, as I said, it commemorated the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and it showed the progress that Negroes had made. That was the terminology of the day in that one hundred years in the arts, in literature, in science, in, in all arenas, but especially in music. And, as a result of that, being in that, in the chorus and being part of the cast because the chorus was used to depict various scenes and the like, in 1968, when Duke came to do his sacred concerts that he had begun at that time, he said that, you know, the first, that first portion of his life he had done jazz and, in fact, he didn't call it jazz. Music is a beyond category. Those are his words. Music is, there are only two kinds of music, good music and bad music, and so, and that was his terminology as well. But he said he was going to spend the rest of his life because he had been so blessed in doing sacred music, so then he did these sacred concerts one [A Concert of Sacred Music], two [Second Sacred Concert], and three [Third Sacred Concert]. Well, he was contracted to come to Chicago [Illinois] to do a sacred concert at the Auditorium Theatre [Chicago, Illinois] and I was sought as the choral director to train the chorus for this performance. It was November 8, I think, 1968. I was only five years old. I was just a prodigy (laughter) and that was the, the 1963 experience with 'My People' and the 1968 experience of being his choral director were the highlights of my life, to work with this genius who had composed more than three thousand pieces in his lifetime, and (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) I remember from that period seeing him on television, on Sunday morning, on CBS, with, I think the New York Philharmonic, or something, you know.$$Yes. He was an amazing person. I just adored him. In fact when Mercedes [HistoryMaker Mercedes Ellington], his granddaughter, and I worked together at later years. I told her, you know, "I was in love with your grandfather," (laughter) and we had a big laugh about that. And, in love as far as being, adoring him and seeing him for, as the person he was. He was a magnificent person. He was a humanitarian. He was truly America's cultural ambassador. They designated that he was and he was. I mean, he did state department tours and the like, and just spread, he was just full of love, just full of it and embraced all sorts of humanity, gave dignity to people in all walks of life. He was a magnificent person.$Tell us about the, about the, I'm still trying to get the name right, like I had it wrong earlier, but the Chicago Music Association and its origins in 1919; that's a long time ago (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) It's a long time ago. Yes, for the very reasons that we were talking about, the discrimination against blacks and the performing arts, Nora Douglas Holt, who was the music critic for the Chicago Defender, called together musicians, black musicians here in Chicago [Illinois], and they were all professionally trained and to form an organization in which blacks could perform on stage concerts and classical music and create music themselves, and to promote the use of a Negro spiritual as indigenous form of music to this country. She called musicians up around Chicago and they established this organization called Chicago Music Association. It was to provide performance venues for blacks who were traditionally left out when it came to performing on major concert halls and opera, opera stages. At the same time, or in fact prior to 1919, these series of meetings took place before 1919, but Chicago Music Association was officially formed on March 3 of 1919. At the same time that all of this was going on, Henry Grant [Henry L. Grant] in Washington, D.C. was attempting to form an organization composed of black musicians nationally, Negro musicians, that was the terminology then, Negro musicians nationally, for the same reason. Incidentally, Henry Grant was Duke Ellington's high school music teacher in Washington, D.C. And he actually was the first president of the National Association of Negro Musicians [NANM] after it was formed. Well, they heard about this fledging, fledgling group in Chicago and they contacted Nora Douglas Holt, and said we'd like to come and meet with you, and so musicians came from all around the country and met in Chicago during the last of July and the first of August 1919, during the most horrendous race riot that ever occurred here in Chicago. They met at the Wabash Avenue YMCA [Chicago, Illinois], and from accounts of the recording secretary that we have in our archives, they could hear the noise of the riot that was going on further to the north, the shots and various things that were going on. They met and they hammered out and they saw and were led by Chicago Music Association as to how they came into formation and the purposes and what they did, their constitution and the like, and out of these meetings, the National Association of Negro Musicians was formed and Chicago became the first chapter, even though it preceded, so NANM was formed like August 9th. Earl [HistoryMaker Earl Calloway] can correct me. He remembers those dates. It was either August 8th or August 9th of 1919, and Chicago Music Association was formed March 3, 1919.