Brown, Uzee Jr. 1950–
Uzee Brown Jr. 1950–
Composer, arranger, singer
Professor Uzee Brown Jr. has been a major figure in African-American classical music for more than thirty years. Since 1972, when he made his operatic debut in the role of Parson Alltalk in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s world premiere of Scott Joplin’s opera Treemonisha, Brown has fascinated audiences with his talents as a vocal performer. After seasons spent singing in Italy, he returned to the United States and began a parallel career as a music educator and a composer and arranger of music. Much of his inspiration comes from African and African-American musical traditions, and his arrangements of spirituals have become staples in the repertoire of many church choirs. His work has been featured at many arts festivals, including the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s tribute to African-American composers in 1999 and the St. Louis Festival of African and African-American Music in 2001.
Brown was born in 1950 in Cowpens, South Carolina. He earned his bachelor’s degree in music at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia—one of the foremost traditionally Black colleges in the United States—in 1972. While attending the university, he studied composition with T. J. Anderson, a leading African-American composer, and worked closely with the leader of the college’s Glee Club, Dr. Wendell P. Whalum. He also performed and studied at the Berkshire Music Center, at Tanglewood, and at the Interlochen music camp in northwestern Michigan. After graduation he moved to Europe, where he studied at the world-renowned Graz Conservatory in Austria and at the University of Siena in Italy.
After returning to the United States in the late 1970s, Brown taught at Clark Atlanta University, where he became head of the department of music. Finally, however, he returned to Morehouse College, his alma mater, in the 1980s. He worked with his former teacher, Wendell Whalum, producing arrangements of African-American spirituals such as “Ain’t-a That Good News!,” “Go Where I Send Thee,” “Sweep Clean Mary,” and “Rock-a My Soul.” He quickly won a reputation as a vocal music composer as well, producing in 1992 the song cycle O Redeemed!. In 1999 his arrangement of “We Shall Overcome,” produced for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s Martin Luther King Jr. tribute, was broadcast on the National Public Radio program “Performance Today.”
Born in 1950, in Cowpens, SC. Education: Morehouse College, BA, 1972; Bowling Green State University, MM; University of Michigan, MM, DMA; also studied at Berkshire Music Center, Tanglewood, Interlochen (Michigan), Graz Conservatory (Austria), and University of Siena (Italy).
Career: Opera singer, 1972-; Clark Atlanta University, Atlanta, GA, chair of Department of Music, 1970s-1980s; Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA, professor of music and member of board of trustees, 1980s-.
Memberships: Onyx Opera Atlanta, Atlanta, GA, co-founder and chairman of board of directors, 1988-; National Association of Negro Musicians, president, 1996-2002; Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, choral director and director of music; Cascade United Methodist Church, choral director and director of music; Ben Hill United Methodist Church, choral director and director of music; Ebenezer Baptist Church, choral director and director of music.
Awards: Received awards for study at the Graz Conservatory and the University of Siena; Outstanding musical director and arranger, Audelco Award in Black Theater, for Zion, 1992.
Addresses: Office —Morehouse College, Department of Music, Brawley Hall, 830 Westview Drive SW, Atlanta, GA 30314.
Benjamin Roe, the producer of “Performance Today,” personally commissioned Brown’s arrangement of the great civil rights anthem for the special celebration. “He asked me to write something that would capture the power and the spirit of the civil rights movement—a celebration piece,” Brown told Susan Elliott of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In many ways Brown was an ideal choice for the commission. Not only did he share with King a common college—both graduated from Morehouse College—Brown was also music director of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, King’s home church. In fact, Dr. King’s mother was one of Brown’s predecessors in the position of choir director at Ebenezer, while Dr. King’s father served as the congregation’s pastor.
Although Brown is perhaps currently best known for his compositions and arrangements, he remains an active performer on stage in operatic roles and as a baritone soloist (most notably with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra). In 1988 he performed the title role in Bobby Paul’s King Solomon with the Emory Theater. Six years later he appeared as part of the ensemble of the National Black Arts Festival’s premiere production of Jubilee, a musical. In 1999 he participated in Georgia State University’s workshop production of a new opera entitled Zabette. Recently he has also served as bass soloist for performances of both Mozart’s and Brahms’ Requiem. In the same Atlanta Symphony concert honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in which his arrangement of “We Shall Overcome” debuted, Brown performed the baritone solo in Howard Swanson’s “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”
Uzee Brown also continues to be active in promoting the education and careers of aspiring African-American musicians. In 2002 he completed a six-year term as president of the National Association of Negro Musicians, which, according to its website, is “the oldest organization dedicated to the preservation, encouragement and advocacy of all genres of the music of African-Americans in the world.” He also cofounded the opera ensemble Onyx Opera Atlanta, which promotes the works of African American composers and serves as a venue for African American performers of classical music.
Treemonisha, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, 1972.
King Solomon, Emory Theater Productions, 1988.
Jubilee, Alliance Theater, National Black Arts Festival, 1994.
“The Negro Speaks of Rivers, A Death Song,” Performance Today, January 15, 1999.
Zabette, Georgia State University, 1999.
Compositions and arrangements
(Composer) Musical prologue, School Daze, 1988.
(Composer) O Redeemed! A Set of African-American Spirituals, for Medium-High Voice, R. Dean Publishing, 1994.
(Composer) Zion (musical play), Theater in the Square, Atlanta, GA, 1996.
(Arranger) “We Shall Overcome,” Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, 1999.
(Arranger) “Go Where I Send Thee,” GIA Publications.
(Arranger) “Rock-a My Soul,” GIA Publications.
(Composer) “Be With Us All, Lord.”
(Arranger) “Come By Here.”
(Composer) “Dide Ta Deo.”
(Arranger) “I’m Building Me a Home.”
(Arranger) “John Was A Writer.”
(Composer) “Oh The Savior’s Comin’ Hallelu.”
(Arranger) “Sweep Clean Mary.”
(Composer) “Wake Me Up Lord.”
(Composer) “This River.”
“My God Is So High.”
“Gonna Walk All Over God’s Heaven.”
“Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning.”
“Ain’t-a That Good News!”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 13, 1999, p. C11.
Ebony, June 2001, p. 128.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 29, 2001, p. 4.
“Concerts: A King Celebration,” NPR Online, www.npr.org/programs/specials/mlk/concerts.html (July 30, 2003).
“Marguerite Brennan and the College of the Bahamas Choir,” So Encouragement, www.soencouragement.org/choir.htm (July 30, 2003).
“National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc.,” National Association of Negro Musicians. Inc., www.edtech.morehouse.edu/cgrimes/ (July 30, 2003).
“Uzee Brown, Jr., President,” National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc., www.edtech.morehouse.edu/cgrimes/biograph.htm (June 20, 2003).
—Kenneth R. Shepherd
"Brown, Uzee Jr. 1950–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/brown-uzee-jr-1950
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