Leading Musicians Launch Black Orchestral Network

Black members of more than 40 orchestras have launched the Black Orchestral Network (BON), a collective of Black orchestral musicians dedicated to creating an inclusive and equitable environment for Black people in the orchestral field.

BON started with a theory: If we increase our connection to one another, we can harness our creativity and develop initiatives that benefit Black musicians. In the tradition of organizations like the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Society of Black Engineers, the organization seeks to create an inclusive and equitable environment for Black people in the orchestral field.

Founded by seven Black musicians — Jennifer Arnold, Alexander Laing, David A. Norville, Joy Payton-Stevens, Shea Scruggs, Weston Sprott, and Titus Underwood — BON seeks to galvanize the industry, break down barriers to inclusion, and confront long-standing inequities in treatment and process.

On May 2, BON launched its first public-facing campaign focused on advancing equity and inclusion in American orchestras. Through an open letter, titled “Dear American Orchestras,” BON calls for American orchestras to take decisive action against racial injustice in the industry. The campaign provides a platform for allies who seek a race equity culture to commit to change in the orchestral community.

The letter calls for:

1. Orchestras — through their Boards, management, musicians, and music directors — to hire Black musicians and support opportunities for emerging Black artists.

2. Funders — both institutional and individual — invest in the long-term viability of organizations already committed to Black orchestral artistry and think big about the possibilities for American orchestras in our changing culture and society.

3. Unions — particularly the American Federation of Musicians and related conferences (ICSOM, ROPA) — to stand in solidarity with Black members by honoring the values of fair workplaces and addressing barriers to fair and equitable audition and tenure practices.

For more information, watch the call to action or read the open letter here.

Artists, audience members, educators, music lovers, culture bearers, and enthusiasts are invited to co-sign this letter by adding your name to the list of Black orchestral musicians calling on American orchestras for change. Co-sign the letter here.

The “Dear American Orchestras” campaign is championed by Black musicians from some of the country’s most prominent and influential orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera, Boston Symphony, National Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony, and the Nashville Symphony. Orchestral musicians who have signed the letter to date include AFM Local 47 members:

  • Dale Breidenthal (Violin, Los Angeles Philharmonic)
  • Raynor Carroll (Co-Principal Percussion/Timpani,LA Philharmonic, retired)
  • Andrew François (Viola, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra)
  • John Lofton (Bass Trombone, LA Philharmonic)
  • Stephanie Matthews (Co-Founder and Violinist, Re-Collective Orchestra)
  • Adedeji Ogunfolu (Horn, Pacific Symphony)
  • Barry Perkins (Trumpet, Pacific Symphony)
  • Robert Watt (Assistant Principal Horn, LA Philharmonic, retired)

For a current list of all signatories, visit blackorchestralnetwork.org.

“We are committed to calling out the structures, systems, policies, and practices that have had harmful impacts on the American orchestral industry,” said violist and BON co-founder Jennifer Arnold (AFM Local 99, Portland). “Achieving equitable solutions requires questioning and dismantling of existing norms and taking collective action. We are at an unprecedented time where there are a large number of open positions in orchestras. If there is any time to attract, hire, and promote Black musicians, it is now.”

Learn how you can support the Black Orchestral Network at blackorchestralnetwork.org.