By Jared. D. Childress
Me’Lisa James was brought to tears the first time she saw an all-Black orchestra.
“It was a healing process for me,” James, 32, said. “Growing up, I was the weird Black kid that played the clarinet. It’s very rare to see Black classical musicians.”
James was one of the many locals who last year saw the Sacramento debut of the Colour of Music Black Classical Musicians Festival.
The festival returned this year with its Nov. 15-Nov. 18 run, hosting orchestral performances and literary presentations at the Guild Theater, Memorial Auditorium, and the City Hall Galleria in West Sacramento. It also held a virtuosi performance at the City Church of Sacramento and an organ recital at the All Saints Episcopal Church.
Attendance was up this year compared to the 2021 debut, drawing nearly two thousand Sacramentans. Three nights sold out and the finale experienced a 20% increase in ticket sales, said Artistic Director Lee Pringle. In efforts to expose the youth to classical music, tickets also were comped for schools and underserved communities. With plans to expand next year, sponsors say the festival is poised to be one of Sacramento’s signature events.
The festival is a half-million-dollar operation that supports Blacks in a field where they make up less than 2% and arts enrichment at a time when music programs are routinely cut. The event relies on sponsorships from local corporations and public agencies in each city. In Sacramento, the city contributed a reported $150,000. Visit Sacramento kicked in a $50,000 grant with an additional $25,000 from the Sacramento Tourism Marketing District.
But the festival wouldn’t have happened without the Sierra Health Foundation. While the philanthropic organization initially contributed $25,000, it unexpectedly became the festival’s greatest fundraiser.
The week prior to the event, CEO and President Chet Hewitt stepped up to fulfill a financial shortfall. In just two days, he raised upwards of $175,000 by personally reaching out to public and private entities, elected officials, and private citizens who “understood the importance of the event.”
“In many respects, this is what community does to support the arts,” Hewitt said. “It all came together and we did it in a way that Sacramento does best. It was stunning, beautiful and transformative, in particular for the young people who probably had never seen Black people engage in classical music.”
James attended each day.