In 1989, The New York Times music critic Donal Henahan identified and listed Joy Blackett, along with African American singers Leontyne Price, Paul Robeson, Kathleen Battle, Dorothy Maynor, and Roland Hayes, “among the flood of splendid black singers who have contributed to the world of concert and opera as spiritual descendants of the legendary Marian Anderson.” The distinguished group also includes performers with whom Blackett has performed in opera and in oratorio as contralto soloist. They are Martina Arroyo, soprano (Musica Aeterna); Vinson Cole, tenor (St. Louis Symphony on recording); William Warfield, Bass-Baritone (Lake George Opera); Simon Estes, Basso (Brooklyn Philharmonia) and George Shirley tenor (New York City Opera).
The distinguished mezzo-soprano Joy Blackett has made history. A British subject, she is the first Bermuda-born performing artist in the world of classical music in any discipline to achieve national and international acclaim for her performances in concert, opera, chamber music, and oratorio. The mezzo-soprano has performed both traditional and avant-garde repertoire throughout the United States, Russia and Romania, Europe, and the Caribbean. Blackett has also garnished accolades for her innovative work as an educator, adjudicator, producer and director, who strives to enhance the development and skill of young artists representative of diverse backgrounds, and gifted in a variety of disciplines.
Winner of the 1971 Young Concert Artists (YCA) International Competitions, Blackett was awarded the gala opening recital of YCA’s eleventh season at New York’s Town Hall. She was accompanied by pianist John Wustman, and her fellow YCA artist, flautist Eugenia Zukerman. Leading critics, including Raymond Ericson of the New York Times, who raved that “Blackett set a high standard for the concerts to come,” and described her as “performing brilliantly,” began:
“It is not often that a debuting singer has the kind of near-flawless vocalism that Joy Blackett exhibited in her recital Monday night in Town Hall. Her voice is a beautiful instrument produced with apparent effortlessness. Joy Blackett is a first rate singer at this early point in her career.”
New York Times | November 10, 1971
Blackett, who is also of Barbadian and Irish descent, immigrated with her family to the United States from her maternal homeland Bermuda at the age of 14. Three years after they settled in Yellow Springs, Ohio, the young islander was accepted by Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. During the summer of 1962, just before the start of her freshman year, the Bermuda Board of Education invited the teenager to return home to perform, in order to help finance her college tuition. In seven days, Joy Blackett performed seven recitals. Her repertoire included art songs and arias in Italian, French, German, and English. She was welcomed by six schools, where she happily met up with former classmates and friends, with whom she had attended school just a few years earlier. The mini-tour of 40-minute concerts culminated with a full-length gala recital at the City Hall in Hamilton. Blackett’s piano accompanist was her music theory instructor and mentor, the distinguished Oberlin Alumnus Dr. Walter F. Anderson, concert pianist, composer, and Chair of Antioch College Music Department. The recital received enthusiastic and constructive commentary in The Royal Gazette from the revered pianist, and author of Foundations of Piano Technique, Geoffrey Tankard.
￼In 1964, during her sophomore year while on tour with the Oberlin College Choir (OCC), Blackett’s solos “There is a Balm in Gilead” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” received thunderous ovations from the Russian and Romanian audiences. Dr. Robert Fountain, the renowned director of the choir, was her voice professor. Telegraphic Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS) cabled reports of her resounding reception through the Associated Press (AP) to news bureaus in the US. Soon afterwards, The New York Times reported:
“Nineteen-year-old Joy Blackett stopped the show last night with her rendition of the spiritual, ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,’ during the Oberlin College Choir’s opening night debut concert at Leningrad Philharmonic Hall.”
Years later, members of the cognoscenti would also hail her singing of traditional spirituals as “The Blackett Specialty,” due to the charming British clip that tinges her Bermudian-Barbadian accent.
“Blackett’s a Joy to behold! The program ended with four Spirituals—the light rather than deeply religious kind. Obviously, these must be a kind of “Blackett specialty.” She captured the evasive mixture of poetry and religious convictions with quite the right artistic reverence and vocal lightness.”
Harold Lundstrom | Deseret News, Utah
Following the 39-concert Oberlin choir tour of the Soviet Union and Romania, Blackett completed her sophomore year and decided to move to New York City “to thrive in a more performance-oriented environment.”
A protégée of celebrated patron Miss Alice Tully, Blackett transferred to The Juilliard School in New York City, where she studied voice with Professor Hans Heinz. In support of her studies, she auditioned for, and received grants from, the Metropolitan Opera Studios, the Eleanor Roosevelt Scholarship Fund, and Mrs. David Rockefeller. A winner of The William Matheus Sullivan Musical Foundation Auditions, Joy Blackett is historically the first Bermuda-born performing artist to date to graduate from The Juilliard School with the Bachelor of Music and Master of Science Degrees (’71). It was on this occasion that she was awarded the prestigious Eleanor Morgan Satterlee Award, for Most Talented Voice.
THE SINGING CAREER
WORLD AND AMERICAN PREMIERES
In the fall of 1971, founder and director of the National Opera Institute, Washington, D.C., the Metropolitan Opera star bass-baritone George London, announced that Bermudian mezzo-soprano Joy Blackett would be the first announced recipient of the two-year, $10,000 grant for professional study.
Renowned for her interpretation of “new” music, Blackett received glowing reviews for her 1976 New York City Opera debut performance as Queen Willatale, in the world premiere of Leon Kirchner’s avant-garde opera, Lily. Andrew Porter of New Yorker Magazine wrote:
“Lily demands vocal virtuosity, Joy Blackett turns vocal somersaults through lightening roulades and swoops, outdoing such spectacular utterances as those in George Crumb’s Ancient Voices of Children.”
Newsweek gushed that her performance was “a wellspring of good cheer.”
Her performance in the lead role of Queen of the Mardi Gras in the 1977 world premiere of Elie Siegmeister’s Night of the Moonspell with the Shreveport Symphony, was described as “first rate” in High Fidelity, Musical America.
“Crosses of Crossed Colours”
More than forty years after Blackett’s performance, a fellow contemporary Oberlin alumnus, came across a recording of “Crosses of Crossed Colours” on YouTube. Music blogger and bibliographer Ron Chester wrote in his online commentary: “It was the first recording, and perhaps only recording, of a piece by Henri Pousseur, called ‘Crosses of Crossed Colours’. Joy Blackett is the vocalist in a composition that sounds to me today like it was many decades ahead of its time!” - March 22, 2013
In 1970, Blackett’s acclaimed performance in the world premiere of Henri Pousseur’s avant-garde orchestral work “Crosses of Crossed Colours” at Alice Tully Hall in New York City won her high praise from the press. The New York Times wrote, “Miss Blackett’s performance, vocally powerful and dramatically shrewd, gave the score it’s main interest.” Composed in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Blackett performed “Crosses” with the composer Pousseur featured as guest composer-conductor in the first concert presented by the New and Newer Music series at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Blackett’s tour de force interpretation of the multiple roles of narrator, singer, actor, and preacher was an unequivocal success. This inspired the composer Pousseur to invite Blackett to perform “Crosses of Crossed Colours” in his homeland of Belgium, as well as Germany.
RECORDING: MUSIQUE MIXTE 1966-1970
“The fourth Henri Pousseur CD in Sub Rosa’s Early Electronics series features two long works. Although his condensation of his own interpretation of the Faust legend has been heard infrequently, this is the premiere of “Crosses of Crossed Colors” and to me is the more intriguing and powerful of the two.
“The three movements of “Crosses of Crossed Colors” employ two pianos as well as turntable and tape machine operators who all support highly-accoladed SOLO vocalist, Joy Blackett. … Not only is Blackett’s performance moving, it’s also particularly relevant even today to the problems of racism faced in the aftermath of Katrina and to the ecological emergency the planet faces as its resources are obliterated at an astonishing rate. If anything, the persistence of these issues highlights how important they remain.” … Although both pieces have structural similarities, Blackett’s performance alone makes “Crosses of Crossed Colors” the highlight, and the opus might one day be considered one of Pousseur’s best works.”
Matthew Amundsen | July 2006
Blackett continued to receive high praise for her American and world premiere performances of other contemporary works as well. These include chamber music works: Luigi Dallapiccola’s “Parola di San Paolo”; Luciano Berio’s “O King”; Alberto Ginastera’s “Songs of Tucuman”; Frank Martin’s “Quatre sonnets à Cassandre,” with the composer conducting; Vincent Persichetti’s oratorio “Creation”; Ernst Krenek’s opera “What Price Confidence”; George Rochberg’s “Symphony No. 3,” and Zsolt Durkó’s “Dartmouth concerto.”
OPERA | ORCHESTRAL | CHAMBER MUSIC | RECITALS
Glowing reviews followed Blackett’s other operatic debuts in the traditional repertoire, including the San Francisco Opera (Monteverdi’s Orfeo) in 1972; Opera/South (Verdi’s Otello) in 1974; Wolf Trap Opera, (Ward’s The Crucible) in 1975; Lake George Opera (Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess) in 1976; Manhattan Theater Club (Holst’s Savitri) in 1976; Opera Ebony (Puccini’s Madame Butterfly) in 1986; Opera Society of Bermuda (Porgy and Bess) in 1981; The Mannes Camerata New York premiere performance (Venus and Adonis) in 1987.
“Blackett is a new constellation in herself. A beautiful velvet mezzo-soprano wedded to an irresistible expressive sense.”
(Orfeo) | San Francisco Chronicle
Blackett began singing roles opera and in oratorio in 1960, at the tender age of fifteen. She auditioned and was chosen contralto soloist in Mozart’s Requiem Mass with the choruses and orchestras of Antioch College and Central State College, conducted by the illustrious Hugh C. M. Ross, Director of New York’s legendary Schola Cantorum. She performed in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro with the popular touring Turnau Opera Company based at that time out of Chicago. The following summer, at age 16, Blackett performed in the Summer Opera Workshop at Ohio State University in scenes from Flotow’s Martha, Menotti’s The Consul, and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. During her teen years the singer won vocal competitions held throughout Ohio, including the Prince of Peace Speech Contest. Some years later, in 1966, Blackett was invited to return from New York to Yellow Springs to perform in the operetta-ballet version of Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors. Dancing-singing counterparts in the role of Amahl’s mother at the Area Theatre at Antioch College were ballerina Bess R. Saylor of the Dayton Civic Ballet and soprano Joy Blackett. The soloists, including Park Studebaker alternating with Richard Reif in the role of Amahl, along with the Antioch Chorus and Orchestra, were conducted by Antioch Professor Donald Keats, composer and pianist.
“The part is being reinforced by the very capable vocal support of Joy Blackett who sings the role of the mother. Miss Blackett’s voice is exquisitely beautiful and covers what seems to be an impossible range with apparent ease. Her tone very well matched by the clear sopr;ano of Park Studebaker singing the role of Amahl. … It is gratifying to have this production on our campus, representing successful collaboration not only between college departments, but also collaboration between college and outside artists.”
Carol T. Korty | Antioch College RECORD | December 6, 1966
Joy Blackett’s multifaceted career has been based primarily in the United States, where she has received outstanding reviews for her performances in orchestral works as well. They include Ravel’s Schéhèrazade with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Milton Katims, conductor; Mahler’s Eighth Symphony with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Kenneth Schermerhorn, conductor; Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the American Symphony Orchestra, Kazuyoshi Akiyama conductor, and with the Savannah Symphony Orchestra, Christian Badea conductor; J.S. Bach’s Cantatas No.170 and No. 42, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, John Nelson, conductor; Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with Musica Sacra, Richard Westenburg, conductor; Brahm’s Alto Rhapsody and Berlioz’s Les Nuit D’eté with the Oklahoma Sinfonia and Chorale on the Emerging International Artists Series and Chorale, Barry Epperley, conductor; with the New York Choral Society in Bach’s Mass in B minor with Robert DeCormier conductor; Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with the Greenwich Philharmonia Orchestra, David Gilbert, conductor; Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky with New York’s Youth Symphony, Isaiah Jackson, conductor; Schubert’s Mass No. 6 in E-flat Major with Musica Aeterna at Tully Hall, and Verdi’s Requiem Mass with the Brooklyn Philharmonia (BAM) with, Lucas Foss conductor.
“Miss Blackett who possesses a dark rich voice sang the simple third movement in Mahler’s Second Symphony, the “Resurrection”, a setting of another Wunderhorn lyric, “O Roeschen Roth” beautifully.”
The Indianapolis News
Peter G. Davis | New York Times
Blackett has made frequent appearances in New York City with Musica Aeterna at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and with New York’s Musica Sacra, as well as the New York Choral Society, at Avery Fisher Hall. These appearances and others have occasioned her to perform as contralto soloist with sopranos Heather Harper, Benita Valente, and Judith Blegen; tenors Leo Goeke and Kenneth Reigel, as well as with bassos Justino Diaz, Paul Plishka, Ara Berberian, and John Cheek.
The Bermudian mezzo-soprano has been garnished with accolades for her performances on the Mostly Mozart Festival with Solisti New York Chamber Orchestra, Ransom Wilson conductor in Bach’s Cantata No. 78; the Spoleto Festival USA in recital with Samuel Sanders, pianist; the Webern Festival at the Dartmouth Congregation of the Arts performing German Lieder; the Aspen Music Festival in Bach’s Magnificat in D with John Nelson conductor; New York’s Chelsea Fest ’84: In Recital with Samuel Sanders pianist: A special salute to composer Virgil Thomson; the International Festival in the Sun in Alexander Nevsky with the Tucson Symphony, Robert Bernhardt conductor; in the Bermuda Summer Festival in Recital, New York Summerfare Pepsico Festival, in the St. Matthew Passion with Anthony Newman conductor; with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center with Charles Wadsworth pianist. She has also performed Charpentier’s Te Deum in D Major at Teatro Real de Madrid with Ibermusica in Spain, with Ensemble Musiques Nouvelles on RADIODIFFUSION-TELEVISION BELGE in Brussels, and on the Concerti Da Camera Di Mezzogiorno, 21 Festival Dei Due Mondi, in Italy.
“The music was well served by the gorgeous voice of Miss Blackett. Hers is a rich, sonorous mezzo.”
(Alexander Nevsky) | Richmond Times Dispatch
Sincerely, David G. Woods, Director, School of Music, University of Arizona, Tucson | March 8, 1990
Other instrumentalists with whom Blackett has performed in chamber music works to acclaim are pianists Emanuel Ax, Andre-Michel Schub and Ursula Oppens; cellists Yo-Yo Ma, Laurence Lesser, and Kermit Moore; harpist/flautist Paula Robison; violist Scot Nickrenz, and David Starobin, classical guitarist. In relevant context, Blackett is best known for her renditions of Brahm’s Two Songs for Alto Voice, Viola and Piano; Ravel’s Chansons Madécasses, Grant Beglarian’s “Of Fables, Foibles and Fancies,” and Resphigi’s Il Tramonto.
“Then for Ravel’s Chansons Madécasses, Joy Blackett came out looking like a Gauguin subject—only better—and sang even better! Unforgettable.”
Spoleto Festival USA | The Evening Post, Charlotte, NC
A seasoned recitalist, Blackett has appeared on numerous esteemed concert artist series. She has also been the featured artist-in-residence on scores of university and college campuses across the United States, from the historic Black Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee to the campus of the illustrious Harvard University and Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Blackett has also been guest artist-in-residence for the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), at the North Central Regional Seminar, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. The versatile singer has performed, and been Lecturer-in-Music, at Rutgers University, The State University of New Jersey, Douglass College in New Brunswick; Visiting Voice Instructor, private studio during summer sessions for Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio; and guest lecturer for the Tri-College Consortium, composed of Sweet Briar College, Randolph College, and Lynchburg College, in Central Virginia.
In 1999, Professor Joy Blackett made history once again when she became the first concert and opera singer of note to be presented in the gala concert by the St. Lucia School of Music, Castries, West Indies. Among her tour stops in the Caribbean over the years, Blackett recognized that this particular Benefit concert was another opportunity to directly contribute to the growth and enhancement of a very important institution that appeared sincerely dedicated to the musical growth and advancement of its gifted students. Further, Blackett has ancestral roots and deep connections throughout the West Indies, most significantly to the islands of Barbados, Jamaica, St. Kitts and The Virgin Islands. Thus, this invitation inspired the Bermudian singer to accept this co-artist-in-residency with Dr. Ray Luck, Chair of the Department of Music at Randolph Macon Woman’s College, now Randolph College, in Lynchburg, Virginia. The two visiting professors jointly conducted master classes, lecture-demonstrations, and mini-recitals for the very enthusiastic St Lucian music students and faculty. The grand finale was the highly-anticipated and successful gala dinner and benefit concert featuring mezzo-soprano Blackett, and the accomplished pianist Luck, in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the St. Lucia School of Music.
Sincerely, Diane Raveneau-Joseph, President, St. Lucia School of Music, Castries, St. Lucia, West Indies.
“The voice is like a rich purple glow.”
Alan Rich | The 1979 Mainliner
Joy Blackett’s recordings include Schubert’s Ständchen, Opus 135, for Mezzo soprano and Male Chorus, recorded as “Musica Aeterna at Alice Tully Hall,” with Charles Wadsworth, pianist and Frederic Waldman, conductor, on Decca Stereo Gold Label. She recorded the John Knowles Paines’s Mass in D Major, Op. 10 with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra on the New World Record label with Gunther Schuller, conductor. Blackett can also be heard on Sub Rosa Records with Ensemble Musiques Nouvelles, Bruxelles, Belge (also on YouTube) performing Crosses of Crossed Colours by Henri Pousseur; in Moravian Duets—Selections from The Collections: Newly-Edited Works; on the Mississippi Authority for Educational Television Broadcast Series Blacklife; and in solo recital with Television Station WMSB, Michigan State University.
THE BERMUDA YEARS
VOICES OF BERMUDA | THE RUSSIAN SCHOOL OF BALLET | OPERA SOCIETY | BOYS’ CHOIR
Joy Blackett’s commitment to performing has always been on equal standing with her devotion to sharing her art with artists of all ages who aspire to perform. She decided to do this at home in Bermuda. In 1978 she moved back to the island with her four year-old son Isaiah Allen Jackson IV (nicknamed “Jason”), named for his father, Isaiah Allen Jackson III, the former African American conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra (1987-1994). Blackett also wanted to spend more quality time with her only child, and to insure that he be permitted the opportunity to enjoy the unique idyllic pastimes of her childhood “paradise-isle.”
During the five years Blackett spent on the island she enjoyed the immediate support of both the representatives of the British monarch Queen Elizabeth and the elected heads of the Bermuda Government. In addition, volunteerism on the part of resident ‘ex-pats’ became significantly valuable to Blackett’s presentations. These volunteers filled the void, offering outstanding production-expertise in the areas of lighting, sound, and stage tech, requirements needed for her presentations. With steadfastness, they contributed to bringing to reality her vision of ‘excellence in the performing arts’ in which they sometimes performed, and which primarily featured performance-oriented Bermudians.
With her chief collaborator, the gifted Bermuda-born pianist Greta Jones, Blackett established The Joy Blackett Academy of Music, and presented numerous singers in Voices of Bermuda concerts, which flourished throughout the island. Blackett worked diligently with specially selected collaborators, including artists from abroad. These were international connections, such as the occasional language coach, opera singer, or even a concert pianist who happened to be performing on the island. Blackett conducted master classes, lecture-demonstrations, and workshops. These sessions allowed her vocal students to prepare for classical solo recitals, and to qualify for her signature performing artists’ showcases, which featured a variety of vocal styles. Meanwhile, Blackett laid down the blueprint for courses she would present in the future both at home and abroad.
Blackett also connected with studios and groups that flourished in other disciplines on the island:
~ Joy Blackett
While in Bermuda, dazzling tributes continued to follow Joy Blackett from abroad. The critic Alan Rich, who wrote for Newsweek and New York Magazine, tabulated the top one hundred greatest young musicians in America. In the 1979 Mainliner magazine article entitled “Bound for Glory,” Rich included Blackett among The Top Ten Young Musicians of America, along with James Conlon, Neil Shicoff, Ransom Wilson, Ashley Putnam, Murray Perahia, and Phylis Bryn-Julson.
Blackett’s many artistic contributions to her homeland have brought her numerous “Citations for Outstanding Contribution to the People of Bermuda” from the Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs. She is also the recipient of “Bermuda Heritage Citations for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts.” Listed in Who’s Who in Bermuda, Blackett received the Centenary Founder’s Day Award for “Significant Contribution to the Berkeley Educational Society of Bermuda.” A member of The National Song Committee from 1982-1983, Blackett has also been acknowledged by Advocates for Bermuda’s Children for her dedication to her philosophy of “conducting children in song for children in need” during their annual outdoor summer programs.
Yours Sincerely, Conchita Ming, Chairman A.B.C. Advocates for Bermuda’s Children
Joy Blackett eventually became founder and director of the Opera Society of Bermuda and the Bermuda Boys Choir. A. Lloyd Mathew, the exceptional Bermudian pianist and organist, currently CEO and Director of the Bermuda Academy of Music, was the co-founder.
“If you think that opera is not very popular in Bermuda, think again. Miss Joy Blackett, the leading voice in opera in the Island, said that because of ‘an overwhelming response’, the opera Amahl and the Night Visitors will take to the stage in January.”
The Royal Gazette ‘Living’ Section
PORGY AND BESS | “SAINTS” | JUBILEE | “BERMUDAS”
My garden makes a desert spot;
Sometimes a blight upon the tree
Takes all my fruit away from me;
And then with throes of bitter pain
Rebellious passions rise and swell;
But—life is more than fruit or grain,
And so I sing, and all is well.
~ Paul Lawrence Dunbar
While at home, Blackett continued to sing from time to time. In December 1980, she appeared in solo recital at Christmas:
“From the first notes of Handel’s ‘Angels Ever Bright and Fair’, Miss Blackett demonstrated her remarkable gift for dramatic interpretation, and her powerful lower range with its organ-like breadth of tone. Her voice now mature, full, technically sure and disciplined … filled the church with that extraordinary power, sensitivity and control that brings audiences to their feet in international opera houses. The accompaniment by Greta Jones, (piano), Ruth Henderson (organ), Jean Glass (violin and viola), and Paul Moxon (cello), was sympathetic and balanced, an unobtrusive blending of harmony. But it was Miss Blackett who dominated and astounded. The first act finished with a magnificent rendition of ‘All that Gold’ from Gian-Carlo Menotti’s AMAHL and the NIGHT VISITORS. The performance was so moving that many in the audience wept silent tears.”
Susan Harvey | The Mid-Ocean News, Bermuda | December 23, 1980
WARFIELD IN BERMUDA
One luminous highlight of Blackett’s years in Bermuda was her presentation of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess Concert, abbreviated and based on the opera by the same name. Blackett remembered the privilege of singing with her friend and colleague, the world-renowned bass-baritone William Warfield, with whom she has performed the principal role of “Serena” in fully staged operatic productions, on tour in the US.
“One of the strongest group scenes in PORGY and BESS is in the funeral is in Act 1. It concludes with a marvelous “My Man’s Gone Now” sung by Joy Blackett as Serena. Her soaring voice is soaked with genuine anguish at the loss of her man. Blackett has another strong scene, the prayer in Act II where she becomes a sorceress, eyes and face ablaze with fervor.”
Since childhood, Blackett had been aware that the great Warfield was one of the most highly regarded celebrities in her homeland. One Sunday evening when she was about nine years of age, Warfield and his then young wife, the great American soprano Leontyne Price, were presented on Bermuda radio by “The Voice of Firestone.” They were singing arias and duets from Porgy and Bess. Blackett never forgot “their magnificent singing.” The mention of Warfield’s name always caused a stir of spontaneous expressions of admiration and anticipation. When Blackett mentioned that Warfield might be “on his way” to Bermuda to sing for, and with, Bermudians, the typical response was, “Who doesn’t love Warfield’s singing in ‘Showboat?’” or “A dream come true!” Blackett was beyond pleased when the star, whom her son had claimed as his “Uncle Bill” a few years earlier in the US, agreed to come to Bermuda and perform his celebrated signature role, “Porgy.”
With the support of Mr. Reginald E. Ming, Coordinator of the Bermuda Heritage Committee, Mr. Don Evans, Chair of the Bermuda Arts Council, Dr. Stanley Ratteray, President of the Bermuda Musical & Dramatic Society, and Mr. Paul Moxon, cellist with The Menuhin Foundation of Bermuda, Blackett embraced the entire island of residents with widely publicized invitations to audition. The result was an immensely enthusiastic and talented cast of actors, dancers, and singers originating from Australia, South Africa, the West Indies, the British Isles, the US, Europe, and, of course, Bermuda.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ming informed Blackett that the resident Tucker’s Town Hollywood movie mogul, Mr. Robert C. Stigwood, had made a generous offer to the Heritage Committee to finance Mr. Warfield’s highly anticipated participation. Choosing from two of her favorite classical works, Blackett then set about creating the first half of the presentation. The concert evolved into a well-honed double bill. Blackett (role of Sorceress) brilliantly interwove and merged scenes from Henry Purcell’s chamber opera, Dido and Aeneas, with sections from veteran actor Don Evan’s (role of Prospero) adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest (based on Bermuda mythology).
PORGY AND BESS
“Under the distinguished Patronage of His Excellency The Governor Sir Richard Posnett and Lady Posnett, The Premier, The Honorable J. David Gibbons and Mrs. Gibbons, Mrs. Lois Browne Evans J.P., M.M. and Mr. Evans, and The American Consul General, Mr. John P. Owens and Mrs. Owens,” Joy Blackett presented “This Rough Magic” and The Porgy and Bess Concert on Friday, October 30, 1981.
The Royal Gazette hailed the evening as “A Feast of Sight and Sound.” The Mid-Ocean News headlines raved, “Rough or Smooth, it is all magic”:
“We shall ever be indebted to Miss Blackett for bringing this great bass-baritone William Warfield to our shores. Vigorously backed by the chorus and orchestra, soloists Warfield, Blackett, and newcomer, soprano Sonia Paul (role of Bess), brought the hour and a quarter’s entertainment to a rousing, triumphant close with “Oh Lord, I’m On My Way”—and the house to its feet in a frenzy of appreciation. In spontaneously rushing forward to shake the hands of the soloists and the conductor John Woolridge, the Governor, Sir Richard Posnett said it for all of us: ‘Congratulations, and Well Done!’”
The Mid-Ocean News, Bermuda
VIRGIL THOMSON | ULYSSES KAY | LEE HOIBY
In 1984, “Under the Distinguished Patronage of His Excellency The Governor Viscount Dunrossil and Viscountess Dunrossil, The Bermuda Arts Council In Celebration of the 375th Anniversary of Bermuda” presented Joy Blackett, mezzo-soprano and Kermit Moore, cellist, in Recital at the City Hall Theatre, Hamilton. Dennis Helmrich was the piano accompanist. Blackett, who had returned to the US to resume her career in 1983, was welcomed back to her homeland with glowing reviews.
Later that year, the renowned composer Virgil Thomson, a long time resident at the historic New York City Hotel Chelsea, arranged with Stanley Bard, Proprietor, to invite Blackett to appear as guest operatic soloist on the one hundredth anniversary celebration program that was held at the landmark. “The Chelsea”, built between 1883 and 1885 was known primarily for the notability of its residents, of which Blackett was one, over the years.
Soon after her return to the United States, Blackett was happily catapulted back into performances of “new” music. She performed the leading role of Commère in the Opera Ensemble of New York’s 1986 production of Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts, during the 90th birthday celebrations for the composer.
“As for the acting, everyone caught the spirit of the piece (Four Saints in Three Acts), most conspicuously Joy Blackett and Andre Solomon-Glover as the slyly joking but ultimately romantic masters of ceremony. It was, all in all, the finest Off-Broadway opera production I had witness since one evening nearly 30 years ago when Virgil Thomson himself conducted The Mother of Us All.”
Leighton Kerner | Voice | New York
In 1989, she was invited to perform the leading role of Vyry in the distinguished African-American composer Ulysses Kay’s opera, Jubilee, on the 20th anniversary tribute concert to the composer at the Lehman Center at Lehman College, The City University of New York.
“And now, Joy Blackett has returned to us. With Lawrence Skrobacs at the piano, she offers the world premiere of Lee Hoiby’s ‘Bermudas: A Song of Praise II,’ and art songs by Brahms, Ariosti, De La Torre, Nin, Granados, da Falla, Turina and Ravel. She is one of our great artists.”
Raul Abdul, Reading The Score | New York Amsterdam News | Saturday, October 18, 1988
Joy Blackett’s extraordinary range and depth of vocal performance, along with her generous contributions to the enhancement of the performing arts, led the Bermuda government – the people of Bermuda – to sponsor her New York Alice Tully Hall recital. She was also supported by the Bermuda Winter Festival, Ltd., the Bermuda-based United States Consulate, the British Consulate, the Royal Norwegian Consulate, the Portuguese Consulate, the Bermudian patrons, sisters Mrs. Terry Castle and Mrs. Carol Raveneau, as well as by the legendary American patron of the arts, Miss Alice Tully. Blackett chose the internationally acclaimed pianist Lawrence Skrobacs to be her collaborative accompanist for this recital, which was to be held in her favorite New York City performance venue.
The Bermuda Minister of Community and Cultural Affairs, the Honorable Robert V. Barritt, generously commissioned the well known American composer Lee Hoiby, for the fee of $6,000, to compose new music for the world premiere on this auspicious occasion. Blackett and Barritt were most pleased that the music would be set to the text of “Bermudas,” the stunning lyric poem written by the 17th century poet Andrew Marvell. In addition, the Honorable Robert V. Barritt arranged for the following inscription to appear in the new score:
The Honorable Robert V. Barritt, M.P.,
Minister of Community and Cultural Affairs
For Joy Blackett, Mezzo-Soprano
The composer Hoiby then decided to transplant his original composition entitled Bermudas: A Song of Praise, rename it Bermudas: A Song of Praise II, and transcribe his instrumentation from “duo voices and piano”, to “solo voice, and piano quartet.” Randall Fostvedt Associates Publicity/Personal Representation in New York, Blackett’s PR team, received the official letter, dated 7 October 1986, written by Paul C. Echols, Vice President and Director of Publishing for G. Schirmer & Associated Music Publisher, Inc. in New York. In said letter, Echols formally and legally designated Bermudas: A Song of Praise II both “copyrightable” and world premiere-worthy.
On October 26, 1986, Joy Blackett, in tribute to her beloved homeland, Bermuda, “premiered” Bermudas: A Song of Praise II for solo voice and piano quartet. This performance, with composer Lee Hoiby at the piano, was acclaimed in the New York Daily News headlines, as “Extremely Praiseworthy.”
VOICE TEACHER | VOCAL THERAPIST | ADJUDICATOR
Blackett was recruited to teach in her first voice studio while she was a graduate student at The Juilliard School. Six singers were ‘waiting’ to study singing when she first commuted to Hoboken, New Jersey from New York City. Still a student herself, Blackett found this aspect of involvement with music very enjoyable and fulfilling. She was fascinated to discover that in teaching others, she simultaneously expanded her own knowledge. She continued teaching voice in New Jersey on Saturday mornings until she graduated from the Juilliard in 1971. She then embarked upon a full-time singing career, the part-time professorship at Rutgers University, and a five-year appointment to the National Endowment for the Arts.
Blackett employs the basic tenets of the Bel Canto technique in her teaching. She developed her own “prescription” for dealing with the damaged vocal chords and shrinking ranges experienced by her new students. She eventually crafted a unique format for “voice repair.” Joy Blackett has had tremendous success assisting numerous singers with the reparation of their singing voices. As part of the “format,” her application of “super-vocalizes” have proven key to the eradication of nodes, and the restoration of “the disappearing higher register” that many female vocalists experience.
Through the years, the versatile Blackett has been invited to serve as Adjudicator and Consultant for some of America’s top national organizations. She was the youngest consultant in the history of the Opera Division of the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington D.C. appointed to serve on its Advisory Panel. From 1972-1977, She actively worked along side world-renowned singers Judith Raskin, Rice Stevens, George London and others. Blackett has also been consultant and panelist for the National Young Arts Foundation, formally the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts (ARTS), Miami, Florida (1991-1995). She has adjudicated for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) ACT-SO Performing Arts competitions, Arizona (1990, 1991); served as Honorary Chair, Advisory Council member, and Director of the Performing Artists’ Showcases for the National Society of Arts and Letters (NSAL), Tucson, Arizona (1991-1993). From 1993-1995, Blackett was chosen Talent Scout and Screening Coach for Star Search, the television show, throughout the state of Arizona.
SHOWCASES | “KIDS LOVE OPERA TOO” | OTHER COURSES
In 1991, during her tenure at the University of Arizona, the Tucson Children’s Museum, (now the Children’s Museum Tucson) invited Blackett to present the first courses she had developed during her years at home in Bermuda ten years earlier.
~ Joy Blackett
In 1991, Blackett was appointed Honorary Music Chair of the National Society of Arts and Letters (NSAL) in Tucson. She initiated, as producer and director, her signature performing artists’ showcases for that organization, as well as the Children’s Museum Tucson. This time around, Blackett expanded the showcases’ singers’ format to include dancers, actors, instrumentalists, and poets in a unique platform. Her main goal was to provide extracurricular “performance opportunity” for the young. The artists were coached to demonstrate their levels of skill in the styles of opera, ballet, contemporary pop, jazz, gospel, country, martial arts, and even graphic arts.
Beth LaRoche, Executive Director, Tucson Children’s Museum, Arizona | April 2, 1993
The National Society of Arts and Letters, Certificate, Tucson Chapter, Arizona | November 23, 1992
THE VIRGINIA YEARS
BRINGING OPERA TO VIRGINIA’S LANDMARK THEATRE
Joy Blackett designed and taught the courses “A Taste of Opera: Opera’s Greatest Hits,” “Great Opera Singers,” and “Opera’s Golden Moments” at the Academy of Fine Arts, formerly the historic Academy of Music Theatre. Located in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, the theatre was built in 1905, and is one of Central Virginia’s most notable historic treasures of the last century. For some years, beginning in 2000, Blackett contributed to the nurturing of community talent, as well as the deepening of appreciation of classical music, as guest lecturer at “Virginia’s Landmark Theatre.” As a professional concert and opera singer and voice professor of music, she is the first in the Academy’s more than century-old history to instruct singers in classical vocal technique, and to conduct master classes and workshops in opera. An active member of the (Academy of Music, thus named from 1990s-2003), Steering Committee, Blackett recruited numerous participants for the annual competition, Night of Stars, and for courses taught at the Academy.
Love, Kate Gray, AMT Board of Trustee, Development Chair, Academy of Music, Lynchburg, Virginia
Blackett was invited to adjudicate the Miss Bronze Pageant, and to instruct as Voice and Drama coach for the Miss America Pageant System in Central Virginia. During this tenure, Miss Lynchburg 1998, Nicole Johnson, went on to win the coveted Miss America Pageant.
Meanwhile, Blackett continued to produce and direct her widely popular signature concerts, The Joy Blackett Performing Artists’ Showcases, featuring young artists in multiple disciplines and styles. She introduced its offshoot, the Nations in Concert series next door in Winston Salem, where she adjudicated for the Governor’s School of North Carolina from 1992-1996.
A TABLE SETTING FOR THE NATIONS
www.newsadvance.com | April 22, 2002
The blending of cultures in the US South inspired the Bermudian opera singer to invite peoples of diverse backgrounds residing in Central Virginia to come together in a celebratory way. She encouraged them to unite in a level of harmony that would engender a “momentary microcosm of ‘peace’ among men.” Blackett was impressed that in recent years the area was becoming more and more culturally diverse. People from various nations were settling in the region, and comfortably calling it home. The idea occurred to her after she had casually invited four professors – her friends in the area, who taught at Randolph College, Sweet Briar College, Lynchburg College, and Liberty University - to a long-overdue brunch. The four ladies agreed to bring a sample dish representative of their five countries: Martinique, China, Africa, the US. And, of course, Blackett would serve a favorite, “Bermuda Codfish Breakfast.”
What began as a casual brunch for five became a feast for many more that fifty. There was a tremendous response from the community. The “brunch” expanded to invitees representing twenty-five nations. Blackett, with the assistance of the college professors, and the tireless input of her associate and son, Isaiah Allen Jackson IV, designed a highly specified schedule for the celebration. Even the media contributed to this unique and first-ever venture in the area, and welcomed the community at large to partake of the time-sensitive gala, “A Table Setting for the Nations.” Blackett’s mission statement for this two-hour biennial event was “to create a joyous opportunity for representatives of different countries to come together donned in their national dress (optional), to celebrate and share with others, their diverse cultures with music, dance, poetry, and feasting.” The highly successful event, held first in 2000 in an elegant Virginia home, was highlighted by the thirty-minute enactment of an 18th century European salon recital featuring, exclusively, classical instrumental music.
Ann M. Page, Press Media Group, Lynchburg Ledger Company
THE ELLINGTON: “WORLD PREMIERE EVENT”
On May 5, 2002, Joy Blackett presented “A World Premiere Performance Event” at the famed venue, The Ellington Theatre in Lynchburg, Virginia. She presented four professional singer-songwriter-instrumentalists in concert who were studying vocal technique under her tutelage at that time. They were Paddy Dougherty, Caroline Moore, Heidi Stauff, and Isaiah Allen Jackson IV. The performance sold out and was a memorable first-time event for Central Virginia.
THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
In 1989, Blackett joined the music faculty at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she taught applied voice as an adjunct associate professor. She was also guest lecturer at The University of Arizona Extended University. Blackett was immediately recommended to advise on the Academic Preparation for Excellence (APEX) Mentorship Program. Her memberships included the Presidential Competition Committee, the University of Arizona Foundation-Music Committee, Martin Luther King Jr. Celebrations Committee, and The International Festival in the Sun Performing Arts Committee.
Blackett made her much-anticipated Tucson debut as soloist with the renowned Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus, directed by Julian Ackerley, in December 1989, on the 50th anniversary of their annual Christmas concert.
In 1991, Blackett’s innovative and highly successful one-woman production entitled, “And So I Sing: The Classical Cabaret,” was presented by the University of Arizona (UA) African American Student Affairs Office. Blackett received artistic, technical, and publicity input from the UA Administration, the UA Alumni Association, the UA School of Music, and the UA Theatre of Art Department. Her accompanist was the outstanding UA graduate student, David Dunford. The concert was performed at The Temple of Music and Art in Tucson, Arizona on Friday May 31, 1991. As featured performer, steering committee member, and pivotal fundraiser, Blackett‘s one-woman show made possible the total of $8,000 in proceeds to be deposited in the University of Arizona Black Alumni Endowment Fund, used for student scholarships.
“Most vocal recitals are rather stiff affairs, but Blackett … put together a program that flowed like a series of superb short, films, Colorful, visually striking, flawlessly engineered and rendered, the ‘frills’ accentuated, rather than diminished the impact of the musical vignettes. … In Grant Beglarian’s ‘Of Fables, foibles and Fancies,’ seated in a white wicker chair, a pair of spectacles propped on her nose, Blackett read the four intellectually witty texts as if they were bedtime stories for well-mannered adults. Her very proper accent, flawless articulation and flair for comedic timing, coupled with mock impatience at cellist Nelzimar Neves’ Herculean virtuoso accompaniment, made for a highly entertaining work.”
And So I Sing: The Classical Cabaret | Tucson Citizen | June, 1, 1991
Sincerely, Marjorie Fenton, Director, Jewish Community Relations Council, Tucson Arizona
In 1991, Joy Blackett made history once again. She was the first-ever voice professor in the Music Department at the University of Arizona to prepare and produce a regional winner in the Metropolitan Opera Auditions.
This accomplishment, along with recognition by the university of her “excellent instruction” in private studio voice, her manifold on-campus extracurricular activities which included her aforementioned fundraising performance that engendered thousands of dollars for student scholarships for the University of Arizona Black Alumni Endowment Fund, qualified Dr. Blackett for yet another honor:
The University of Arizona 1991 Public Service Announcement produced for nationally televised release, courtesy of the UA Office of Public Information, features …
“Professor of Music Joy Blackett, Voice, as the exemplar of academic excellence in teaching at the University of Arizona.”
Sincerely, Janet Z. Archibald, Tucson, Arizona | April 27, 1990
Everywhere Blackett has shared her gifts and expertise she has been embraced by many with heartwarming enthusiasm, cooperation, and gratitude. In addition, she has received honors and accolades throughout her multifaceted career.
Joy Blackett is especially proud that the former Virginia Seminary and College, the historic first Black private Seminary and College in Virginia, founded in 1886 (now Virginia University of Lynchburg) conferred upon her “The Certificate of Appreciation for Outstanding Achievement as an Educator,” as well as an Honorary Degree, the Doctorate of Humane Letters, during Commencement Exercises on May 31, 1997.
“Last month, the Virginia University of Lynchburg conferred an honorary doctorate on mezzo-soprano Joy Blackett. She has distinguished herself in both concert and opera here and abroad, and is especially remembered in New York, for her much-acclaimed recitals.”
New York Amsterdam News
© Copyright 2014 Joy Blackett