Alumnus Composes Musical Selection Featured during Charleston Victim’s Funeral
Author: Lois G. Russell
Release Date: Jul 02, 2015
Dr. Gregory McPherson, 1980 alumnus of Alabama State University and renowned composer, created an original work featured during the funeral of Charleston shooting victim, the Hon. Clementa Pinckney and viewed by more than 200 million people worldwide.
Alumnus Dr. Gregory McPherson described his selection to write a musical composition to be featured during the nationally televised “Life Celebration” for the Honorable Clementa Carlos Pinckney on Friday, June 26, as a humbling experience. Pinckney, a pastor and South Carolina legislator, was one of nine people who were shot and killed during a prayer service at Emmanuel AME Church (Mother Emmanuel) in Charleston.
McPherson said his original composition was commissioned by the White House Office of Public Engagement, the Pinckney family and the 7th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“I had to write that piece in less than two days,” said McPherson. “I didn’t get notice from the White House, the AME church and Pinckney family until Tuesday morning that they were encouraging me to go ahead and develop a piece. They support the work because of its archival significance, and a copy goes to the White House, a copy goes to the state house, a copy goes to the family archives and also to their foundation, and to the archival activity of the AME church.”
He said he was informed by NBC this week that his composition was viewed by more than 200 million people worldwide.
McPherson has had close ties to the Pinckney family and the Mother Emmanuel congregation, having served as a musician there for several years. He explained his motivation for the composition, titled “The Requiem of Repose, Permit Now, Oh Lord: My Soul to Enter.” (see video of the performance).
“The composition was written not only to celebrate the life of Min. Pinckney, but also the other eight people who were murdered at Emmanuel,” McPherson said. “In creating the work, my determination was to paint an aural landscape and tapestry that would be considered honorable and credible. I was inspired by the Holy Bible and the Torah, to embrace the essence and foundation of the Judeo-Christian lineage of the Black Church. Many of the themes found in this work are reflective of the numerous motifs found in the Purim, the Negro Spiritual, Black Codes, African and Jewish Modes, and Southern Blues.”
McPherson added that the opportunity to compose the piece was a meaningful experience.
“It’s very humbling to be selected to engage in this effort as a black composer, and it is also historically significant -- continuing the legacy and long list of continued contributions made by many other black composers long before me, thus, adding to the commitment that we must maintain for the music in the entire African cultural diaspora, ” McPherson said.
McPherson’s “Requiem” was performed by a talented ensemble during Pinckney’s funeral, including fellow ASU alumnus George “Spike” Nealy II (‘83), percussionist and assistant director of bands at South Carolina State University; Deri K. Grissett, saxophonist, who is the director of music, bands and production at Montgomery’s Bellingrath Middle School; Monica Hargrave, principal harpist for the Greenville Symphony Orchestra; Dr. Peter Lester Felder II, tenor, director of choral activities at Allen University; Dr. Angela S. Blalock, mezzo soprano, assistant professor of voice at Benedict College; Jan-Marie Christy Joyce, viola, principal violist for the Charleston Symphony Orchestra; Yurly Bekker, violin, who is the concertmaster for the Charleston Symphony Orchestra; and Kyaunnee Chirae, an award-winning lyric soprano.
A 1980 graduate of ASU (BFA degree), McPherson credits his alma mater with building on the educational foundation he received from his parents and grandmother.
“I have been very privileged to learn and matriculate in some of the most celebrated academic environments, including the beginning of what I sincerely consider the very ethos of my higher education experience -- my undergraduate days at an HBCU (Alabama State University), a critical environment where I received the rest of the ‘keys’ to life,” McPherson said.
McPherson has held several positions during his career as an educator and director of choir, band and orchestra, and his musical genius has earned him both national and international prominence as a highly sought after composer, arranger, performer conductor and producer. He was selected as the American composer for one of the musical tributes when Nelson Mandela was freed from a South African prison, and he was commissioned to do a second original work upon Mandela’s death.
McPherson also has worked with a laudable list of entertainers and gospel artists, including Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Wynton Marsalis, Smokey Robinson, James Brown, Bon Jovi, Boyz II Men, Peabo Bryson, Edwin Hawkins, Thomas Dorsey, The Clark Sisters, Yolanda Adams, Hezekiah Walker and The Sounds of Blackness.
McPherson currently is a senior research associate for the Global Health & Humanities Summit at the Emory University School of Medicine. He also is the founder and music director of the African Urban Legacy Orchestra in Atlanta.
More from Dr. McPherson’s Biography
At age 11, McPherson began his professional career in music as both a percussionist & pianist, touring throughout the United States and abroad. These activities have taken him to many of the world's most prestigious stages and concert halls as a featured solo instrumentalist, group member, music director, conductor, arranger, composer and producer. Some of the artists and ensembles benefiting from his talents and expertise include jazz greats Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughn, Clark Terry, Lionel Hampton, James Moody, Max Roach, Wynton Marsalis, George Benson, Warren Hill, Betty Carter, George Russell and Nancy Wilson.
In television, R&B, popular music, film and musical theatre he has worked with New Kids on the Block, Bobby Womack, Smokey Robinson, Kashif, James Brown,The Pointer Sisters, Jayne Kennedy, Bill Overton, Lalah Hathaway, Tiffany, Larry Leon Hamlin, Patti Austin, Tatyanna Ali, Martin Lawrence, Boyz II Men, Tamia, James Ingram, Bon Jovi, Peabo Bryson, Cyndi Lauper, Vanessa Williams, Howard Hewitt and Peter Wolf.
McPherson also worked as lead and associate producer on several production teams for recordings that have spawned several Grammy's, Oscars, NAACP Image Awards, American Music Awards, Emmys, ASCAP & BMI Awards, Billboard Music Awards, Grammy Legends Awards and Soul Train Music Awards.
Dr. McPherson has produced records for CBS, RCA, Quincy Jones' QWEST Records, BMG, MCA, Elektra, Capitol, Arista, SONY, Atlantic, Polygram, Warner Brothers, Motown, EPIC, Disney and several other labels. He also has served as a ghost writer, orchestrator, arranger and composer for soundtracks for New Line Cinema, PBS, SPLC, ABC-Disney, Sony Pictures and Columbia-TriStar.
In advertising, he has had some of the biggest ads and clients around the world including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Mattel, McDonald’s, General Electric, Toyota, Lincoln Properties, L. A. Gear, Fox T.V., Reebok, The New England Patriots, Lincoln Properties, ComputerVision, Pizza Hut, The NBA, Hasbro and many others.
Many of his classical works have been performed by orchestras and chamber groups including the Florida Symphony, The New Orleans Philharmonic, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Boys Choir of Harlem, the Quincy Jones Orchestra, The Boston Ballet and The Louisville Orchestra. In Black Gospel, Dr. McPherson has also played for many artists including Edwin Hawkins, Tramaine Hawkins, Daryl Coley, Donald Vails, Helen Baylor, The Clark Sisters, Thomas Dorsey, James Cleveland, The Florida Mass Choir, as well as a host of contemporary gospel artists, including J-Moss, Vicki Winan, Nicholas, Yolanda Adams, Hezekiah Walker and The Love Fellowship Choir, The Sounds of Blackness, Dr. Bobby Jones & the Nashville Super Choir, Richard Smallwood, and Pastor Andrae Crouch.
As an educator, Dr. McPherson has taught at the University of South Florida, Texas College, Washington State University, Alabama State University, Berklee College of Music, The University of Massachusetts, and a lecturer at Boston College, Harvard University, Kobe University and The New England Conservatory of Music.
McPherson earned a BFA from Alabama State University and an MM from the University of South Florida, with additional studies at Harvard University as well as the New England Conservatory of Music with noted black composer and author, George Russell on the Lydian Chromatic Concept for Tonal Organization. He is also the recipient of three Honorary Doctoral Degrees, with numerous awards, citations and laureates for his many contributions in various areas of his expertise and work in education and children's music. He's been an active consultant for several articles and text reviews on music performance, Gullah & African Folklore, African-American music history, orchestral and vocal composition and arranging, jazz and modern music studies, and music education. McPherson has completed a new book on the roles and responsibilities of African-Americans in today's music industry titled "A Black Face in Today's Music Business,” taking a clear, open, analytic view on many problems in entertainment, thus, offering suggestions for possible solutions.
McPherson holds memberships in Alpha Kappa Mu and Phi Beta Kappa Honor Societies, is a life member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Professional Fraternity for Men in Music and is a brother of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. His active professional associations include the IAJE, MENC, ACDA, NANM, AES, NASM, AGO, GMWA, and he has an artistic endorsement with YAMAHA Synths & Musical Instruments, Yamaha Music Corporation of America.
His current research model titled “Mixed Media Rehabilitation” is an Arts Therapies Alternative to Pharmaceuticals, and partners with the NIH, CDC, Johns-Hopkins University, Emory University, Mercedes-Benz, the Motown Alumni Association, Berklee College of Music, the Smithsonian Institute, and many others.
Dr. McPherson has spent much of his life working to enhance the lives of young people accepting the challenge from and becoming an advocate with Dr. Marian Wright Edelman and the National Children's Defense Fund. He's also worked with Montgomery Public Schools in Alabama as Choral Director at Walter T. McKee Junior High School where he completed research for a textbook for secondary music teachers and students likewise, on urban and rural-urban music education with the Berklee College of Music Media Group as its publisher. Recognized by the Alabama Music Hall of Fame as one its Distinguished Music Achievers, McPherson is considered by many as one of the world's most formidable creative artist.
Source: Alabama State University
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