In 2018, then Executive Director Margaret Partridge, called together a group of black families, with children who participate in one of our youth orchestras, to discuss a project to address racial disparity in classical music. The families embraced the idea of an outreach string quartet that would inspire and encourage all children to pursue music, and the musicians named the ensemble, United Strings of Color. After she stepped down as the Philharmonic Association’s Executive Director in June 2020, Margaret chose to continue as the group’s coach.
In the 2018-19 season, the quartet studied and performed music by under-represented female composers, including two African Americans, Florence Price and Undine Smith Moore. The members were Kennedy Mitchell, Felicia Adizue, Jolie Duquene, and Lexi Etienne. In August of 2019 they were invited to perform on both days of the African American Cultural Festival in Raleigh. Here is a short clip of their presentation of Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen by Undine Smith Moore.
In the 2019-20 season the Quartet incorporated two new members, Cameron Thomas and Kenza Ngatchou, who joined Kennedy Mitchell and Lexi Etienne in preparing a program of music with African connections. Before the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled live events, United Strings of Color played for Jack and Jill, the Durham Symphony’s Holiday Concert, and the Omega Psi Phi Quiz Bowl. They were also ready to premiere Ijapa and Mr. Igbin, a commissioned work by Elmer Gibson, that features a Yoruba Tale with narration and original art by Poe Elementary students.
The 2020-21 group, with Sterling Elliott replacing Kenza as the group’s violist, recorded Ijapa and Mr. Igbin to be able to share this unique piece with the public while live performance was still impossible. Meet the quartet and local composer, Elmer Gibson, and enjoy this African Tale narrated by Heather Elliott.
In keeping with the history of the moment and the Philharmonic Association’s stated commitment to social justice and police reform, this season’s group are immersed in making a difference. The first violinist, Kennedy, has been very involved in her local Black Lives Matter organization. The United String of Color talks weekly about social justice topics and plans to present Violin Vigils in remembrance of black lives cut short. In July 2020, My Brother’s Keeper’s Wake featured some of their non-profit partners in video presentations. In the MBK video linked below, the Philharmonic Association’s United Strings of Color perform “Oh, Freedom!” in Moore Square, Raleigh. United Strings of Color is joined by guest cellist, Tristen Johnson, in this performance.