Photo by Ruth Morgan
Accomplished Classical Performer, Founder, LonGar Ebony Ensemble
“Most people think of Harlem as jazz and R&B but there’s a lot of classical music in Harlem, and our organization is at the forefront of this movement.”
Shhhhhhh, it may be one of Harlem’s best-kept secrets but classical music has been alive and well in the cultural capital of the world since 1925, with the Negro String Quartet and the Cosmopolitan Little Symphony.
Some will say classical music is boring, it doesn’t swing like jazz, or I can’t dance to that, and it just isn’t gutsy down home blues. These statements sound feasible but negate that black classical instrumentalists are also sharing their black experience, the joy and hardships of living in a society who dares to deny them an interpretive voice.
“I think people should know more about what classical musicians are doing in Harlem,” stated Roberta Long, founder/director of the LonGar Ebony Ensemble. “Most people think of Harlem as jazz and R&B but there’s a lot of classical music in Harlem, and our organization is at the forefront of this movement.”
LonGar, formed in 1982, is a musical performance non-profit organization, made up of 50 black classical musicians, including Long’s daughters Yvonne and Crystal Garner, a percussionist and violist, respectively. Long, an international opera soprano, also performs.
Their performances in New York City include Weill Recital Hall (Carnegie Hall), Merkin Concert Hall, and Aaron Davis Hall, as well as the Harlem School of the Arts. They perform six New York City concerts per year, in addition to U.S. and European tours.
Long began singing at age 4, and upon informing her classmates in junior high school that she wanted to be an opera singer, they laughed. “I guess they never heard of a black opera singer,” says Long.
A native of Washington, D.C., she graduated from Teachers College in her hometown. Long later took courses at New York’s Julliard School of Music and the National Academy of Music.
She has performed with opera greats Placido Domingo, Elly Amily, George Shirley and Simon Estes, and with Berlin’s Deustch Opera Company. She toured Paris and London, and appeared in the Broadway production of “Porgy and Bess.” She is a retiree of the prestigious Harlem School of the Arts, as an instructor in voice, chorus and drama.
“It is important to introduce our children to all aspects of the music,” says Long. “Young children need to see everything to expand their musical world.”
—by RON SCOTT