theGrio’s 100: Terrance McKnight, promoting blacks’ classical music legacy

Who is Terrance McKnight?

Terrance McKnight reaches a dedicated audience of music enthusiasts every weekday evening as a radio host for New York City’s storied classical station WQXR, but he is so much more.

McKnight uses his background as a producer for public radio, Morehouse College professor, singer, pianist, and more to broaden the public’s perception of what makes music “classical.”

“On the surface, Western Classical music is exclusively about European culture, and most people of African ancestry feel little connection to it,” McKnight told theGrio. “The truth, however, is people of African ancestry have played prominent roles in classical music for centuries in Europe, Africa and here in America.  I have a unique opportunity to share music and stories from around the world.”

Why is he on theGrio’s 100?

McKnight garnered an ASCAP Deems Taylor Radio Broadcast Award in 2010 for his Saturday night program All Ears with Terrance McKnight, which explores these themes. But it is his desire to transform our understanding of a genre some see as exclusive that renders his accomplishments even more noteworthy.

“I hope listeners take away the fact that classical music is not exclusive to European culture,” he continued. “A gospel play by Langston Hughes is as relevant to American culture as Puccini’s operas are to Italians. On my show, All Ears with Terrance McKnight, I extend the notion of what ‘classical’ is by including Native American music, American spirituals, jazz, and classical musical traditions from around the world. I hope through my programs, which aim to make classical music accessible to everyone, my listeners feel uplifted, and more connected to the larger human family.”

What’s next for McKnight?

“Next up is a one-hour documentary,” he told us. “I’ll be exploring the musical world of Coleridge Taylor Perkinson, a New Yorker who played jazz piano in Max Roach’s Quartet, and composed ballet scores for Alvin Ailey.  In the 1960s Perkinson co-founded the Symphony of the New World and orchestrated Marvin Gaye’s first platinum selling album in 1975.”

Through the unique path McKnight trailblazes, he ensures that black contributions to classical music are properly celebrated, to the greater cultural gratification of all.

Follow Terrance McKnight on Twitter @mcknight3000