By Dennis Speed
The Foundation for the Revival of Classical Culture is presenting a concert at Carnegie Hall, in collaboration with the Schiller Institute, New York Chorus, and Harlem Opera Theater on June 29, 2017 at 7:30 p.m., to honor the 100th birthday of the extraordinary musician and vocal coach, Sylvia Olden Lee. Performers will include vocalists and instrumentalists that knew, worked with, and were deeply affected by Ms. Lee, including: Osceola Davis, Elvira Green, Gregory Hopkins, Everett Suttle, Simon Estes, Kevin Short, David Lofton, Richard Alston, and others.
Sylvia Olden Lee (1917-2004) was among the greatest vocal coaches of the 20th century, and an extraordinary music teacher. As a talented young performer, she played for Franklin Delano Roosevelt at his first inauguration at the age of 16. A classical musician fiercely proud of her African-American origin, Sylvia successfully rectified the once-prevalent misconception that the spiritual was inferior to the canon of classical music. She was a go-to person, in Europe and America, for countless promising singers trying to break into the world of opera and concert recitals. She worked with singers including: Elisabeth Schumann, Kathleen Battle, Gerhard Hüsch, William Warfield, and Jessye Norman, among others.
Sylvia Olden Lee’s great passion, and most enduring legacy, was her 60-plus years in teaching. In this field, she displayed an energy, enthusiasm, and endurance that was authentic, borne of her unflagging faith in a better future for all mankind. Fearless in the face of controversy, Sylvia toured in 1942 with the great, and later much-maligned Paul Robeson.
“Sylvia’s truth-telling teaching was intended to lift the human spirit through music,” said Lynn J. Yen, Founder and Executive Director of the Foundation for the Revival of Classical Culture. “She wanted…us to realize, as she [often] said, that we are all one human race, and to discover that universal harmony is the natural condition of mankind. For Sylvia, music was the most powerful weapon…to achieve that objective. She believed that ‘Where words divide, music unites.’”
To that end, Sylvia developed a program entitled “Project SYLVIA (Saving Young Lyric Voices In Advance).” This program entailed a comprehensive approach to teaching voice training and proper voice placement, in the national school system, from grade school through high school. It also focused on the preservation, maintenance, and development of the vocal capabilities of matured professional and non-professional singers. Within the last decade of her life, Ms. Lee was involved in a non-stop crusade to re-popularize classical musical performance and education among all youth. “The great voices of the operatic stage are singing in the garages, waiting on tables, and singing in the showers of our country,” she often said.
On June 29, 2017, the occasion of Sylvia’s 100th birthday, the Foundation for the Revival of Classical Culture anticipates that at least 1,000 of the people that attend Carnegie Hall for the tribute will be between the ages of 11 and 18. In addition, the Foundation hopes to form a ‘June 29 Movement,’ a choral association and network of persons devoted to the research, performance, and teaching of spirituals and other elements of the classical repertoire.
All who share an enthusiasm for this task are heartily encouraged to attend the June 29th Carnegie Hall concert and to help alert others to it.
The Foundation for the Revival of Classical Culture may be contacted at (718) 707-8722 for more information and group and discount rates for tickets.