Cherry Street Music, a chamber ensemble based in Newton, is celebrating late tenor soloist Roland Hayes this weekend. Hayes was a composer and the first Black soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Wednesday marked 100 years since he first sang at the BSO.
Cherry Street Music's "A Centenary Celebration" will pay homage to his work with a performance at the Newton Cultural Alliance's Allen Center this Sunday. Allison Yoshie Eldredge, founder of Cherry Street Music, described what the group is about.
"It's a concert series that really is a mixed genre kind of concert series where we'll play classical, and we'll have The Beatles on the same concert," she told Boston Public Radio.
Eldredge explained that holding the performance in Cultural Alliance's Allen Center has significance because it was founded as a "historic homestead" and a "multiracial school."
Philip Lima, a baritone opera singer and curator of the upcoming concert, described Hayes as a "tenor, titan and trailblazer," the son of a formerly enslaved woman who received "limited formal musical education." Hayes toured with the Fisk Jubilee Singers before coming to Boston.
"He jumped ship and stayed here in Boston to study, developed his talent, brought his mother here to live with him, had his family raised here in the area and conquered the world," Lima said.
In 1916, Hayes presented himself in a concert at Jordan Hall, which wasn't a financial success. He decided to come back with a concert at Symphony Hall, a venue that's twice the size. Hayes didn't just fill Symphony Hall, hundreds of people had to be turned away, Lima said. The event put so much wind in his sails that six years later to the day, Hayes returned as a soloist with the BSO.
How did he turn things around between the two shows?
"Pounding the pavements. He was out there calling people and telling them about this concert like he was the manager," Eldredge said. Hayes took the same entrepreneurial spirit to England, where he rented out halls and earned an invitation to sing for the king and queen.
Fred C. VanNess Jr. is a tenor who performed the spiritual "Bye and Bye" on Boston Public Radio's Live Music Friday, which Hayes sang decades prior. He credits Hayes as an inspiration.
"As a young Black tenor, I knew about Roland Hayes because I didn't really know many Black singers when I was in my undergrad," VanNess Jr. said.
Hayes doesn't receive the same widespread acclaim as his counterparts, according to Lima. But that's something Lima is determined to change.
"I promise that there will be a lot more recognition of Mr. Hayes, particularly where I have the privilege of working at Berklee College of Music," he said.
Cherry Street Music's "A Centenary Celebration - Roland Hayes Tribute" will be at The Allen Center on Sunday, Nov. 19, 3-5 p.m.