Local Black Musicians Keep the Vibe Classic

Local multi-talented singer and violinist Alex Way, left, performs before a crowd. Native Detroiter Hadiya Knight, right, is a beast on the violin and she teaches students in Dearborn Public Schools the techniques and beautifies of music.  

Photos provided by Khary Frazier and Hadiya Knight

 

 

She’s liable to give you chills.

Native Detroiter Hadiya Adaego Knight is a sight to see, especially on the violin.

The eloquently (and sometimes softly) spoken Knight posted a video on Instagram in May of her playing her violin. Dressed in a white flowing dress with a complementary darker-colored headwrap, the performing powerhouse rests her chin on her violin positioned above her left shoulder as her right arm sways with precision.

With the eloquence and poise of someone who knows their stuff, Knight plays “Total Praise” by Richard Smallwood as an unseen crowd sings softly in the background above the accompanying music.

“This is one of my absolute favorite pieces to sing or play in adoration and worship of Yah,” she said in her post. “It’s a blessing to share my offering of praise with the Most High … Shalom.”

A Musical Gift

Her first name (Hadiya) is Swahili and means “gift of Yah” (God).  Her parents must have known her assignment because she’s been using her musical upbringing as a gift to others ever since she learned how to play the violin and piano decades earlier.

“I was classically trained in violin,” the Michigan State University graduate (with a bachelor’s in music and minor in African American studies) said.

The K-12 Dearborn Public Schools teacher told The Michigan Chronicle that she was heavily involved in music youth programs at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra throughout her life.

“They have a wonderful youth program, Sphinx,” she said of diverse classical performances encompassing an annual competition with prizes.

“I did a lot of that growing up — my parents tried to get me as many opportunities as possible,” Knight said, adding that as a teacher she teaches a wide range of subjects, including Choir Music Theory and Music Appreciation.

Knight added that when working with students who grew up listening to music from their parents it’s “not difficult to get them to appreciate music.”

“I worked in a couple of different communities; I started working in Detroit. Now I work in … Dearborn. Now I teach predominately Muslim students coming from Yemen and Oman in the Middle East.”

Knight said that she first wondered “how that would be.”

“Especially when I haven’t had much of an interaction with students that I have now,” she said, adding that many of her students know “little to no English” but music is their connector. She asked her students what music do they listen to and artists they like early on when she started teaching them last year.

“If there is a student in my class that doesn’t speak English, there are other students that can translate for me. I was worried about it … I knew it would work out,” she said, adding that she taught her students virtually for the past year because of the pandemic. This fall she will be teaching in person. “Right now, we don’t have enough violins for them to start. We do have ukuleles. I sometimes talk to them about the way I learned violin, and bring in my instrument and play for them. They are quite interested.”

It’s not hard for Knight to teach and connect with others when it comes to music – she’s been involved with it since she was a child.

“When I was five years old my dad asked me what I liked to play: violin or piano,” she said, adding that she chose violin because they lived in a smaller house at the time and a violin was smaller.

She learned to play via the Suzuki method of training (also known as the mother-tongue approach).

“What they train is just not the children to read music, the notes on the page, but train the ears,” she said, adding that a teacher will teach students to play something and will ask the student to repeat it back without reading the music. “It opened me up to different genres.”

She added that growing up she played in jazz bands and different things that her peers who were not taught in that method found difficult.

“Some people don’t prefer the Suzuki method,” which she said is “tried and true.”

Black voices in the classical music realm have not always been celebrated but have always been vital. Digital radio, Classic FM, wrote a celebratory article about Black musicians who “shattered racial barriers” on concert stages, in albums and beyond.

Nina Simone, recognized as one of the country’s most iconic jazz artists, originally wanted a career as a classical pianist, according to reports, but she was denied admission to New York’s Juilliard School despite having a great audition. She said racial discrimination was a major factor. In 2003, shortly before her death, they awarded her an honorary degree.

From Simone merging the worlds of gospel and classical music to present-day trumpeter Wynton Marsalis who leads the way performing in classical concert halls – there is no shortage of Black classical artists inspiring up and coming musicians today.

“There are a few people who inspired me,” she said of native Detroiters Melissa White, a “prolific violinist,” and classically-trained Regina Carter. “If I had to pick a single person who influenced me when I was younger it would be Regina Carter.”

Music Guides Her Way

Alex Way, 28, of Detroit, is a singer, songwriter and violinist. While she is an R&B/neo-soul artist she was classically trained on violin.

“I chose R&B because it’s what spoke to me the most. I felt it gave me room for expression. I love classical music as well, though. I began playing violin in 5th grade and haven’t put it down since,” she told The Michigan Chronicle. “I’ve been doing R&B for about six or seven years and classical for about 18 years now.”

Way performs with soulful, deep melodic understanding behind her gentle and clear voice. Posting frequently on Instagram, she can be singing love ballads, playing sharply on her violin or posting photos of all of the above with a ring light attached to her phone as the virtual crowds go wild.

“My songs are mostly focused on love,” she said. “My EP, ‘Phases,’ focuses on the different types of love. For example, I have songs that focus on community love, being in love, letting go of love.”

She added that mentorship is “so important” especially in the music world.

“Because without it, we don’t keep the movement going and could be missing out on the next genius in the classical world,” she said. “Because, sometimes, the only thing a person needs is guidance to get to the next level.”

 

 

 

 

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