Composer and pianist Damien Sneed has released his full-length classical debut CD, Classically Harlem, on Friday, February 7, 2020, to commemorate the centennial of the Harlem Renaissance (1920-2020). Classically Harlem features two special guest artists from The Metropolitan Opera’s roster: Brandie Sutton and Justin Austin. Also, violinist Randall Goosby from the Juilliard School of Music is featured on four songs. Classically Harlem is a collection of meaningful classical works by Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Strauss and several contemporary African American composers including Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Mark Fax, and Hale Smith, with an original composition by Sneed. Classically Harlem is available on digital retail and streaming platforms everywhere, including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Spotify, and Tidal.
“After World War II, Harlem [NYC] became the nexus of brilliant creativity for African Americans,” says Sneed. “Therefore, in honor of the great creative giants who birthed the Harlem Renaissance back in the 1920s, I chose to dedicate my first classical offering to commemorate its 100th anniversary. From solo piano repertoire to chamber music featuring the violin, to art songs to lieder and the operatic aria, this project celebrates well-known composers from the Western Music tradition as well as other prolific composers who emerged on the scene during the last century.”
Throughout years, the multi-genre artist has been paired with his longtime friends and collaborators Brandie Sutton, J’Nai Bridges, and Justin Austin on numerous projects. On February 4, Sutton (soprano) made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Clara, singing “Summertime” in the revival of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. In May 2019, Sutton joined Sneed as a special guest artist at the 2019 Pulitzer Prize ceremony in a 20-minute set to celebrate and honor Aretha Franklin, who was awarded a Special Citation, marking the first time the Pulitzer board incorporated a musical performance into their annual ceremony. To view the performance, click HERE.
Austin (baritone), an award-winning artist will star in two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel, which has been made into an opera with music by Ricky Ian Gordon. This is the first of Nottage’s award-winning plays to be turned into an opera. Intimate Apparel will premiere off-Broadway at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater, a Metropolitan Opera/Lincoln Center Theater New Works production, February 27 through March 23, 2020. Sneed accompanied Austin on his Carnegie Hall debut at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall in October 2017. This year, Sneed will produce Austin’s debut album.
Bridges (mezzo-soprano) recently made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Queen Nefertiti in Phillip Glass’ opera AKHNATEN. Bridges also performed with Sneed, who was the musical director for Jessye Norman’s funeral and accompanied her on his arrangement of “Heaven/Oh What A Beautiful City,” for both the October 2019 funeral and Norman’s Celebration of Life concert at the Metropolitan Opera in November 2019. For Black History Month, Sneed and Bridges performed on the CUNY TV show “Black America” with Carol Jenkins. For a preview of their performance, click HERE.
Sneed has a series of classical projects scheduled for the Spring and Summer 2020 season, including his new chamber opera Marian’s Song, commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera, with the libretto by Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton. Focused on the life of Marian Anderson, it will have its world premiere on March 5-6, 2020, at the Cullen Theater at the Wortham Center in Houston, TX. Sneed was recently commissioned to compose a symphony in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen that is also slated for the 2020-2021 season.
This summer, Sneed will join the community-based organization the Harlem Chamber Players, to conduct Nathaniel Dett’s The Ordering of Moses as part of the 100th Anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance at The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine on June 4th in New York City. The concert will feature Brandie Sutton and Justin Austin, along with Raehann Bryce-Davis (mezzo-soprano), Issachah Savage (tenor), Sneed’s 100-piece choir Chorale Le Chateau, and an orchestra comprising members of the Harlem Chamber Players and other New York City-based musicians. Sneed will also present the world premiere of his arrangement of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” for chorus and orchestra on that evening.
This past year, Sneed was invited to participate in several high-profile concerts and performances, including Wynton Marsalis’ critically-acclaimed Abyssinian Mass with the famed Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Chorale Le Chateau for a three-night engagement during the 10th Anniversary of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival in November at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater.
In October 2019, the Sphinx Media of Excellence recipient premiered his new opera, “We Shall Overcome – Our Journey: 400 Years from Africa to Jamestown” at Carnegie Hall’s Isaac Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage for the Sphinx Organization Performance and Gala. He also wrote the libretto for the piece, which showcases musical styles from the African American diaspora, including African rhythms, spirituals, gospel and jazz, all interwoven with the classical genre. He was joined by fellow Sphinx Medal of Excellence recipients J’Nai Bridges and Will Liverman of the Metropolitan Opera, along with Chorale Le Chateau and the Sphinx Virtuosi Orchestra, who brought his ground-breaking opera to life during the evening’s finale performance.
Within the past year, Sneed has appeared on Jessye Norman’s final recording, Bound For The Promised Land. He also recorded and released three projects on his label, LeChateau Earl Records, including Damien Sneed: We Shall Overcome Deluxe Edition(January 2020), Jazz in Manhattan (September 2019), and Damien Sneed: We Shall Overcome (January 2019). Other recordings include The Three Sides of Damien Sneed: Classical, Jazz and Sanctified Soul (July 2018), Broken to Minister: The Deluxe Edition (March 2015), Spiritual Sketches (June 2013), and Introspections LIVE (January 2010).
Currently, Sneed is on his 40-city North American tour, “We Shall Overcome: A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” which is making stops at concert halls and universities in the U.S. and Canada.