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Awadagin Pratt, Renowned Pianist Musically Paints the Picture of Blackness in America

By Sasha Smith

Renowned pianist, Awadagin Pratt. Photo credit provided.

World renowned pianist and conductor, Awadagin Pratt, takes the stage at Kodak Hall in the Eastman Theater to perform Awadagin Pratt: Black in America, Tuesday, April 12 at 7:30 p.m.

This multimedia presentation, jointly presented by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) and University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, will be free to the public.

Awadagin Pratt describes “Black in America” as, “fusing music performed by [Pratt], original still and moving pictures by filmmaker Alrick Brown, and a Pratt-authored and delivered narration, the event captures the complexities of America’s original sin by chronicling the renowned pianist’s life from his time as a music student at the Peabody Conservatory through his ascent to international acclaim through graphic accounts of police stops for Driving While Black.”

“Until they’d heard the original audio version of this program, many people who knew me – and had known me for years – had no idea of the extent of my experience of Driving While Black,” Pratt said.

“I’m pleased that the RPO and Eastman have decided to make this a part of my appearance in Rochester.”

Pratt is acclaimed for his musical insight and intensely involving performances.  He has performed on numerous platforms, both in the U.S and abroad.  In November of 2009, Pratt was one of four artists selected to perform at a classical music event at the White House.

Pratt participates in numerous residency and outreach activities wherever he appears, whether it be master classes, children’s recitals, play/talk demonstrations and q&a sessions for students, according to his biography page at

Beginning his career as a pianist at the age of 6, Awadagin has always been a strong advocate for music education.  

Pratt first gained musical recognition in the music community being the first student in the history of Peabody Conservatory of Music to receive diplomas in three performance areas; piano, violin, and conducting.

According to the biography of Awadagin Pratt, in recognition of this achievement and for his work in the classical music field, Pratt received the Distinguished Alumni Award from John Hopkins as well as an honorary doctorate from Illinois Wesleyan University.  

Pratt will also perform in Rochester’s premiere debut of Jessie Montgomery’s Piano Concerto, entitled “Rounds for Piano and String Orchestra,” commissioned by the Art of the Piano Foundation and the RPO.  

A powerful conclusion to the program will feature Felix Mendelssohn’s Fifth Symphony and will include a pre-concert talk with Mr. Pratt one hour prior to each evening’s performance.

Pratt said he hopes that those who attend Black in America will hopefully begin to understand the experience of ‘driving while black,’ which he said unfortunately is incredibly common regardless of someone’s ‘success’ or status.  

“My hope and desire are that with understanding will also come change.”

Pratt’s event is a part of a series of events in April being given by RPO and Eastman School of Music.  Other events include Ken-David Masur, making his conducting debut with Johannes Brahms’s Variation on a Theme by Hayden, April 14 and April 16.  As well as Principal Pops Conductor, Jeff Tyzik leading Revolution: The Music of The Beatles, A Symphonic Experience, Tyzik accompanied by hundreds of rare and unseen photos, taking the audience on a magical, musical and visual journey of The Beatles, April 22 and April 23. 

For performance tickets visit