The arts have always been a part of the fabric of the University, dating to its inception in 1879 in Live Oak, Florida. The campus at Jacksonville, Florida is remembered for the music director and band director, J. Rosamond Johnson and his brother, James Weldon Johnson, an adjunct professor. They composed the music and lyrics respectively for Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing now known and revered as the Negro National Anthem. Written in 1900, the composition continues to serve as a guide for the present visual and performing arts program under whose umbrella the music program resides.
Over the years, many professors and students contributed to the success of the program. In the early 1960s when the then college was located in St. Augustine, Florida, Dr. Kenneth J. Huenink was the Director of the Music Department. Under his leadership, the ensembles were the Choir, Chamber Band, and String Ensemble. In 1962, Mr. John Price joined the faculty and assumed the responsibility for the Music Department as Dr. Huenink became the Acting Dean of the University. Mr. Price was instrumental in establishing the Annual Spring Break Tour as an annual event for the Choir. During that year, Mr. Walter Hampshire came to the University and became the sponsor for the FMC Players and the New Yorkers Clique – the college’s drama guild. Members from these groups were not only active in producing plays in the campus but were very active in the community. As an example, they performed in St. Augustine’s Quadricentennial Celebration as actors in The Cross and the Sword, an outdoor drama written by Paul Greene. The scenery for all campus productions was created by the University workshop, while the printing of flyers and programs was done by the campus print shop. Richard Boone, the noted actor and a resident of the city visited the University on several occasions. During the year prior to relocating in Miami, the actor Raymond Burr became an active supporter of the institution. In 1968, the University moved to its present site in Miami, Florida. Dr. Huenink, Mr. Price and Mr. Hampshire moved to Miami with the University.
In 1978, the then college continued its involvement in dramatic productions under the direction of Mrs. Patricia Warren, an English and Drama professor. Mrs. Warren’s vision was to establish a quality program in the performing arts with opportunities for students to develop speaking skills, acting techniques, technical production knowledge and training to be channeled into production on campus. An organization designed for students interested in performing, as well at attending performances, evolved – the Players Guild of Florida Memorial College. The birth of the Players Guild matured into a life of its own with students displaying acting skills and stage experience by performing in plays, Black History presentations, as well as participating in the National Association of Dramatic and Speech Arts Conferences. Mrs. Warren, Dr. Alfred Pinkston, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, and art professors Gene TInnie and Alvin Pondexter worked together during the 1980s to produce performances such as Amen Corner, Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, For Colored Girls and God’s Trombones. Many of the students represented the University in competitions organized by the National Association of Dramatic Speech and Arts at the John Kennedy Center at Howard University in Washington D.C., Southwest College in Los Angeles, California, and Bowie State College in Bowie, Maryland. The noted playwright, director and actress, Vinnette Carrol, worked with the FMC Players Guild to stage productions such as Next Time I’ll Rain Down Fire.
Early in the 1980s, the college received a Title Three grant to establish a Visual Arts program. Dr. Pinkston enlisted the help of Mr. Gene Tinnie, an area professional artist and educator. Mr. TInnie designed the curriculum for the Visual Arts program and enlisted the help of other area artists such as Mr. Roland Woods and Ms. Pamela Bowens. These Adjunct professors provided instruction in two and three dimensional art studio and art history. In 1985, Mr. Alvin Pondexter, was chosen to lead the art program.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the Music program was best known for its Ambassador Chorale, founded and directed by Professor Roosevelt Williams. Professor Roosevelt Williams was succeeded by Mr. Wayne Robinson and Dr. Charles Clency. Mr. Willie Williams served as band director during Professor Roosevelt Williams’ tenure followed by Reverend Phillip Cooper – well known for creating the sound of the Florida A & M University Marching Band.
In 1996, Florida Memorial College President Dr. Albert E. Smith restructured the Music program by reengaging Dr. Alfred Pinkston to serve as director of the program. Dr. Pinkston, had at the time recently retired as Supervisor of Music for the Broward School District – the fifth largest school district in the nation. While in that position, he was credited by Downbeat magazine and similar publications for the music program of Broward County, Florida being recognized as the “number one” music program in the nation for music and technology. Dr. Pinkston was also serving as the Dean of Music at Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale (with a membership of approximately 9,000). Additionally, he had served as a music consultant for the United State Air Force in Europe, where he conducted choir and organ workshops throughout England and Germany.
The FMC music program had offered the traditional music curricula – Music Education and Music Performance. Dr. Dawn K. Batson joined the faculty to organize a steel band program, which gave the College the distinction of being the second institution in the world to offer a major in steel pan. The steel band is the only acoustic family of instruments invented in the 20th Century. Under the direction of Dr. Batson, the Florida Memorial Steel Ensemble by 1998 was invited to perform for the World Hockey Championship in Holland and at the 2000 World Steelband Festival earned the honor of being the first ensemble outside of Trinidad & Tobago to win or tie for first place in a competition in the land of its birth. The Florida Memorial Steel Ensemble earned this honor performing Dr. Batson’s original work “Black Holes Do Exist”. Dr. Batson was also later appointed Chair of the Board of the Trinidad Tobago National Steel Orchestra by the President of Trinidad and Tobago providing additional recognition of her position as one of the world’s leading authorities on the steel pan. In following years, the group sent representatives to the Festival winning first place in the Quartet, Trio and Duet categories and Leon “Foster” Thomas, Florida Memorial Jazz Studies major placed first in the soloist competition. The Ensemble also toured the United States, the Caribbean and Brazil to great acclaim and the Florida Memorial Youth Steelband Festival (now in its 14th year), was started. The group also performed with rap artist Ludacris at the VHS Music Awards show in 2005 and was chosen as one of the groups performing for the opening of the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts now the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. In 2010, the Florida Memorial Steel Ensemble was recognized by the Knight Foundation and awarded a Challenge Grant for scholarships, tuning and travel.
In keeping with Dr. Smith’s vision, curricula were established in jazz studies, popular music – including music business and production, and church music. The ensembles became the vehicles of accountability with students performing at professional levels. Additionally the slogan Make Something Happen became the operational theme with faculty and students. The established musical forms and structure of traditional ensembles was recognized but the operational philosophy meant that faculty and students were encouraged to create and experiment with new forms and ensembles to bring their dreams into reality. This philosophy remains today.
Jazz great trumpeter, composer and arranger, Melton S. Mustafa was recruited to bring immediate recognition to the major in jazz studies. Mr. Mustafa, known and renowned internationally, performed with the Count Basie Orchestra, the Duke Ellington Orchestra and still today directs the Melton Mustafa Orchestra and is in great demand as a soloist and consultant. The University recognized his contribution to the field of jazz by creating and naming a jazz festival in his honor – the Annual Melton Mustafa Jazz Festival (now in its 16th year). Top jazz artists have graced the stage of this festival which has always had the education of young jazz musicians as its core. Jazz artists such as Dr. Nathan Davis, the late Dr. James Moody, the late Dr. Grover Washington and the late Ralph Macdonald were some of the artists who performed as part of the Jazz festival. James Moody and Grover Washington also received honorary doctoral degrees from the university.
Emphasis was placed upon recruiting for the faculty, exceptionally talented musicians versed in the oral traditions – jazz, church music, different Caribbean and Latin American musical genres, and popular music. Dr. Jacquelyn Peoples, who had served on the staff of many New York music-publishing houses as an arranger, provided the formal introduction to the world of popular music. She, along with Dr. Clency and Mr. Randy Gregoire arranged for the choir to accompany Puff Daddy (P.Diddy) and Mary J. Blige in Miami and Orlando. Dr. Peoples also introduced the musical contributions of the Harlem scene by directing musicals based upon the Cotton Club and other famous Harlem spots. Dr. Nelson Hall, then Musical Director for the well-known Jubilate Ensemble, continued the tradition. He made it possible for students to have the experience and honor of performing with artists such as Andrea Couch, Richard Smallwood and Bobby McFerren. He also organized tours for the Music area in 2004 and 2005 in Spain, Germany and Holland. Ms. Nicole Yarling, jazz vocalist and jazz violinist and protégé of the late jazz vocalist, Joe Williams, came on board as the Director of the Pop Ensemble. Under her direction, the ensemble performed live in different venues in the South Florida area. She with Jazz Studies students, most notably Leon “Foster” Thomas, established “Sweet Tuesdays” a jazz jam session for professionals and student musicians. Ms. Yarling and Mr. Vernon Martin, Director of Student Activities, created opportunities for music and non-music majors to present their talents in gospel music and hip-hop.
Dr. Richard Yaklich composer, cellist and conductor was brought in to start the string ensemble and Reverend Jerome Symonette, a graduate in church music from the Louisville Seminary and known throughout South Florida for his mastery in classical and gospel organ and piano technique, joined the faculty to enhance the church music program. Errol Rackipov, specialist in percussion and music production, joined the faculty to begin the Music Production program. Mr. Melvin White charismatic choral conductor and vocalist, followed directors such as Mr. Wayne Robinson, Dr. Charles Clency, Dr. Jacquelyn Poeples, Mr. Lloyd Brockington and Dr. Nelson Hall to take the Ambassador Chorale to new heights.
During the late 1990s, the Miami-Dade County Commission decided to build a major performing arts center in downtown Miami and satellite centers around the county. The University was selected as one of the sites. The agreement involved renovating the teaching auditorium to make it a state-of –the art performing arts facility. Dr. John Scott joined the faculty to oversee the development of the plans for the theater. During his tenure, he produced the musical, Anthem Suite which told of events that influenced by Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing. In 2004, Mrs. Patricia Warren returned to the University to serve as Director of the Lou Rawls Center for the Performing Arts. Lou Rawls himself performed at the opening. In 2005, Florida Memorial College became Florida Memorial University. With this change, the previous diverse units, although having worked as a team since 1879, became the Department of Visual and Performing Arts in the School of Arts and Sciences. In 2006 the music program gained national accreditation through the National Association of Schools of Music, the major accrediting body for schools of music in the United States.
The next seven years were financially difficult for the University which affected the Department. Faculty positions were reduced and fulltime faculty in the Music area moved from eight to five. Dr. Pinkston retired, Mrs. Warren passed away and Dr. Yaklich became Director of Assessment for the University though still teaching one or two music courses. Dr. Batson was appointed Chair of the Department of Visual and Performing Arts and Mr. Keith Allen, well versed in Arts Management, became the new Director of the Lou Rawls Center for the Performing Arts. Recruitment of students of high caliber continued and the Department grew in strength continuing the legacy of excellence.
Today the Department of Visual and Performing Arts is fortunate to have in its fulltime faculty, Dr. Nelson Hall, Director of the Church Music Program and the Chamber Choir; Mr. Melton S. Mustafa, Director of the Jazz Studies Program and the Jazz Ensemble; Mr. Melvin White, Director of Vocal Music and the Ambassador Chorale; Ms. Nicole Yarling, Director of Instrumental Music and the Pop Ensemble; Mr. Alvin Pondexter, Director of Visual Arts; and Dr. La Toya Davis-Craig, Director of Dance. The Department is assisted by Ms. Patty Fleeman who until the Fall of 2012 also served the Department of Humanities and Ms. Ann Payne-Nimmons, House Manager for the Lou Rawls Center for the Performing Arts. The Department’s Adjunct faculty in terms of time and dedication function almost as fulltime faculty. They include, Mr. Dessalines Ford, noted in Church Music and Music Education circles for his knowledge and experience; Mr. William McKenzie, known as one of the deans of band directors in South Florida; Errol Rackipov, jazz percussionist and expert in music technology; Reverend Jerome Symonette, musician extraordinaire; Mrs. Carol Caselle, vocalist and renown music theater educator; and Mr. Melton R. Mustafa, son of the legend and a top jazz educator and artist in his own right. Other Adjunct professors are hired as needed dependent on enrollment in Applied classes.
Lou Rawls Center for the Performing Arts