She Won't Play The Harp While Inner Cities Burn

Angelica Hairston is not content to play the harp while the inner cities burn.

The 23-year-old classically trained musician, currently a Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholar at the John D. O'Brian African-American Institute Boston's Northeastern University, was studying in Toronto when Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin died.

She realized that society's perceptions of African Americans were being shaped by tragic encounters between police and young black men. She wanted to show that there was more to the story.

So Hairston organized not a rally but a concert featuring classical musicians, dancers, and videographers, all black or Hispanic.

The concert, Challenging The Stats, taking place at Sunday, April 17, at 7:30 p.m. at Northeastern's Fenway Center. The event has received support from the Museum of African-American History the NAACP's Boston chapter, and Northeastern University.

Hairston says that only 4.2 percent of U.S. orchestral musicians are black or Hispanic, and only 1 percent of compositions performed by U.S. orchestras are composed by people of color.

She studied harp at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute with Ann Hobson Pilot, the first African American female to hold a principal position in a major symphony orchestra

The experience gave her the courage to seek a career as a classical musician. The concert she has arranged is intended to provide role models for African Americans in music, dance, spoken word, and film.

"You go to concerts," Hairston says, "and look around the audience, and you really don't see other people who look like you. It's a very strange world. I thought, what can I do to give others a chance to change the future and create diversity in classical music."

Hairston says that when she was growing up, people would assume that since she played the harp, she came from an affluent background. The reverse was true; she benefited from the Talent Development Program of the Atlanta Symphony, which supports minorities interested in pursuing classical music as a professional career.

That program provided money for lessons and summer music programs in Italy and Vancouver, and even helped Hairston purchase her own harp.

The finale at Challenging The Stats will consist of three African-American harpists -- the only three who are conservatory-trained and living in Boston -- performing on stage together.

Hairston says that carrying the civil rights movement to the classical music world is her effort to continue the work of Dr. King.

"He would be really encouraged by the work that so many people are doing in so many different fields," Hairston says. "But I think he would always say, 'What else can we do? This is great, but it's still not enough.'"

Challenging The Stats, 77 St. Stephen St., Boston; Free tickets with RSVP at