Being the First: Black History Month & Classical Music

February 28, 2017

It’s okay to be the first to do something. First in your family, first in your cultural community, first even in your country! It may not be easy, it may come with far more resistance, but the reward will inevitably bless you and many others along the way.


Black History Month is not just a historic celebration of the progress and resilience of the African American community – it is, in fact, an ongoing present day recognition of the battles that continue to be fought.


One such modern day hero has paved a new path for fellow black classical musicians. Robert Watt is the first African American French hornist to join the Philharmonic.


After his father, among many others, discouraged him from playing the French horn, Watt refused to let the doubters stop him. The stereotype in the classical music community was that black instrumentalists could not play the French horn well, as their lips were considered too large for the horn. Or as Watt’s father put it, “the French Horn is made for thin-lipped white boys, not you.”


Watt continued to pursue his passion as a French hornist anyway and broke all social boundaries when he joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1970. There he played for 37 years, and today encourages many young black classical musicians to reach high and break the mold.


Watt did not allow fear of being “the first” to hinder what he truly felt called to do. He viewed the hurdle as an opportunity to be the first and make room for others.


And that is the true spirit of Black History Month – it is not just an effort to recognize equality, but it is also a relentless determination, despite the setbacks, to boldly be the first.