African American Philharmonic Orchestra by
When you say
“philharmonic orchestra”, the first thoughts that usually
come to most people’s minds are the names Beethoven, Bach,
Tchaikovsky and, of course, elevator music. However, after
listening to Atlanta’s African American Philharmonic and
Jazz Orchestra, you may want to add the names of James
Brown, Duke Ellington, Luther Vandross and Count Basie to
that distinguished list. These multi-talented musicians can
play it all. They’ve performed for Nelson and Winnie
Mandela, Bishop Tutu, The Trumpet Awards, Former Ambassador
Andrew Young, Muhammad Ali and the African Delegation for
the 1996 Olympics — just to name a few.
Their first performance, in 1990, at the Atlanta Civic
Center was attended by 4,000 people and included sixty-five
orchestra members, 120 voices comprised of ten church choirs
and the Morris Brown College Choir. Coretta Scott King,
Maynard Jackson, Jesse Hill and the Reverend Joseph E.
Lowery were just some of the Atlanta luminaries that
attended their debut.
Founded on February 12,
1988 by John T. Peek, his wife Carrie Whaley Peek and
musician Tommy Stewart, the African American Philharmonic
Orchestra (AAPO) was formed to provide a showcase for
professional musicians and composers of African American
descent within the Atlanta area. According to a 1986 article
by the Rockefeller Foundation, there were only 186 black
musicians in the entire country who were qualified to
participate in major orchestras. At the time the AAPO was
founded, there were only four all-black orchestras in the
country and at least one, or no more than two, black
musicians were playing in most major orchestras.
The AAPO provides a performance venue for the presentation
of musicians that would, otherwise, be denied the
opportunity to perform in fully staged orchestra concerts.
The musicians are experts on their respective instruments.
Each member has auditioned and has been carefully selected
to build an orchestra that exhibits a complete range of
artistry on the featured contemporary, classical, jazz, and
gospel works. It was founded under the umbrella of Music
South Corporation to respond to the musical needs and
interests of the metropolitan Atlanta community.
John T. Peek, founder and conductor of the AAPO, has been a
musician for over sixty years. He became interested in
playing the trumpet at a very young age because his father
was a trumpet player and he wanted to follow in his father’s
footsteps. John has always thought of himself as a leader
and formed his first band at the age of fifteen while he was
still in high school. During the summers of his junior and
senior years in high school, he toured with The Carolina
Cotton Pickers and played with greats like Sara Vaughn,
Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine.