Dr. Byron Johnson aspires to pave the way for Black and other minority musicians to break into the world of classical music.
"I aim to continue to advocate for parity in the classical music field for our students," said Johnson. "It is poignant to remember that HBCUs like Alcorn play an important role in ensuring that minority students are given opportunities that otherwise would be denied to them."
The associate professor of Music in Alcorn State University's Department of Fine Arts now has the resources to further his mission. Johnson was accepted into the Sphinx LEAD (Leaders in Excellence, Arts, and Diversity) Program. Sphinx LEAD is a two-year leadership program designed to evolve the industry landscape by empowering the next generation of executive leaders. Arts leaders of color are selected annually to participate in a curriculum including mentorship, networking, and leadership retreats at the institutions nationwide.
The program is part of the Detroit, Michigan-based Sphinx Organization, a social justice organization dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts. Sphinx programs focus on increasing the representation of Black and Latinx students in classical music. The program serves beginners, seasoned classical music professionals, cultural entrepreneurs, and administrators.
Acceptance into such an esteemed music program is a significant accomplishment for Johnson. He described the wave of emotions he felt upon hearing the good news.
"It is a good feeling. When I was notified that I was accepted, I felt excited and grateful. I also felt humility and affirmation. Humility because the Sphinx Organization has been a strong advocate for promoting diversity and inclusion of minorities for Black and Latinx artists in the classical music fields for over two decades."
"The organization also places a strong emphasis on excellence in classical music. Therefore, to be accepted in a program of this caliber and included with highly esteemed colleagues in the classical music field is humbling. I feel affirmation because it validates that my efforts to enable music students to gain performing and career opportunities and exposure in classical music were correct," Johnson said.
The organization provides Johnson with several game-changing tools to better recruit for Alcorn.
"I will be exposed to the best practices in arts administration, which includes project management, marketing, and fundraising strategies. I will also work with industry leaders in the classical music arena, which will put me in good stead to contribute meaningfully to the program in Alcorn's Department of Fine Arts. This will further augment the department's program, and from a marketing perspective, will enable me to recruit more students for our department and University."
Johnson is a product of an HBCU that provided him with life-changing musical opportunities, so he knows HBCUs' value in fostering musically inclined students. He's happy to offer the same opportunities to future maestros.
"My alma mater, Talladega College, allowed me to pursue a degree in music. I was exposed to opportunities that have served me well in my career as both a singer and vocal pedagogue."
"Now, I'm able to positively impact the lives of students, just as my former professors did for me. It is all about paying it forward."