UNT tributes music of the Kennedy White House

Brittany Villegas / Contributing Writer

The UNT College of Music will host a rendition of three important White House concerts that took place during John F. Kennedy’s presidency, paying tribute to Kennedy’s time in office and commitment to art and music.

The Sunday, Nov. 3, concert will take place in the Dallas Arts District and includes renditions of the 1961 recital by cellist Pablo Casals, the 1962 recital by mezzo-soprano opera singer Grace Bumbry and the 1962 jazz performance by the Paul Winter Sextet, with an appearance by the then-young pianist Tong-Il Han, who later joined UNT’s College of Music faculty.

“The fact that they used that bully pulpit that is the White House – that is the presidency – to bring these artists in and give them center stage is a part of the legacy,” College of Music Assistant Dean Raymond Rowell said. “We’re well known for our jazz program, and that was a natural fit to look at the Paul Winter concert as source material for our concert if we were going to present something about the legacy of the Kennedys.”

The Paul Winter Sextet performance was the first jazz concert to happen in the White House. The members of the group were college-aged, but had just returned to the U.S. from a six-month tour of 160 concerts in 23 Latin American countries through President Kennedy’s Cultural Exchange Program.

At the time, their hard pop and Brazilian-fused jazz aligned with the Kennedys,’ especially Jacqueline’s, eclectic music preferences, Rowell said.

The College of Music’s renowned opera, piano, jazz and strings programs, as well as its ties with classical pianist and former professor Tong-Il Han and his 1962 White House recital, also established a connection between the college and the original White House concerts, Rowell said.

The performance will include nine UNT faculty artists, such as Brad Leali, an associate jazz saxophone professor and director of the Three O’Clock Lab Band. Leali, who will play alto sax for the Paul Winters Sextet rendition, said that it’s a big deal for him to honor Kennedy through music.

“He had an impact on me, for all of the things that came about during the Civil Rights movement, that allowed me to have some of the opportunities that I have now,” Leali said.

Vocal performance graduate student Chaazi Munyanya, the only student participating in the  event, will perform Grace Bumbry’s piece. She said it is important that young students take note of Kennedy’s presidency.

“Every generation should acknowledge and respect the people who made great changes to our country and to the world,” she said. “It is not only out of respect that we honor his life, but with joy and celebration.”

This will be the first event that the College of Music hosts at the Dallas City Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District, Rowell said.

Hosting the event in Dallas gives students the chance to explore and become familiar with the city’s attempt to reinvigorate the arts into its culture, Rowell said.

“One of the things that often is surprising is that an hour drive away, you have probably one of the best arts districts in the country,” he said. “It’s just available for you there, with great museums, great concert venues, great musicians, great actors, great dancers coming through on a regular basis.”

The concert takes place as the city of Dallas honors the memory of President Kennedy and the 50th anniversary of his Nov. 22, 1963, assassination.

The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Dallas City Performance Hall in Dallas’ Arts District and is $10 for students. Tickets can be purchased at the box office on the day of the event, or in advance here.

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