by Aaron Terrett
Although Mississippi is known as the “Birthplace of America’s Music,” its contributions are generally tied to blues, jazz, rock, country and gospel. However, there are five Mississippi musicians breaking the mold and excelling in the classical music genre.
Robert Fisher, after a successful career in classical music, returned to Mississippi where he now teaches string music at Jackson State University. As part of his teaching, Fisher decided to introduce his students to musicians who had their start in Mississippi and branched out throughout the country and beyond. He did so via ZOOM, April 16.
Adrian Walker, Edwin Davis, Rick Fleming, Robert Fisher and William Walker are five black men from Mississippi who have formed successful careers in classical music. All five men are products of the public music programs in Mississippi.
Fisher got his start in classical music at Timberlawn Elementary School, where he played the violin. As his studies advanced, he chose to attend Illinois State University as a music major. He would go on to advance his music studies, eventually studying chamber music with famed musician, Ann Hobson Pilot.
After graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music and Northwestern University, Fisher became a member of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, where he plays viola. Along with playing viola professionally, Fisher resides as the instructor of strings at Jackson State University.
Adrian Walker began playing violin in the 5th grade at Johnson Elementary School after the Jackson Public School District was chosen for a trial run of how a public school strings program would operate. He then attended Eastland School of Music in Rochester, New York.
Adrian would go on to join the St. Louis Symphony through the now-defunct Orchestral Fellowship Program of the New York Philharmonic. He currently resides in St. Louis, Missouri as the first chair violinist in the Fox Theatre Orchestra and a teacher at Carr Lane VPA, a visual performing arts middle school.
Davis is a freelance artist from Utica, Mississippi. With no plans of becoming a full-time musician, he went to Jackson State University to study in their Pre-Med program and eventually added music as a minor. After being discovered for his voice, Davis would begin to take music more seriously and attend the Manhattan School of Music in Manhattan, New York. Now, as a full-time artist, Davis is based in Portland, Oregon, where he is a resident artist in the Portland Artist Association.
The next musician to carve a path to classical music success is Rick Fleming. Fleming initially joined the band at Brinkley Middle School in Jackson to spend more time with his friends. He would then go on to Calloway High School, where he met Adrian Walker.
After graduating from Mississippi Valley State University as a music major, Fleming went to Ole Miss to study trombone. While at Ole Miss, he began to play with the Tupelo Symphony Orchestra. Following more musical success, Fleming found his way to Buffalo, New York. In Buffalo, he has had opportunities to perform with the Buffalo Philharmonic, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations and more. He is now a professor of music in Buffalo.
William Walker is another product of the JPS strings program. His interest was peaked after seeing the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra perform an educational concert. He began playing cello and saxophone simultaneously. In his senior year of high school, he went to Interlochen Arts Academy to study cello. There he began to conduct for the first time.
After more studies, he went to the London Royal College of Music to study cello and conducting. He began working with the English Touring Opera as an assistant conductor. He now resides in Vienna, Austria where he is the music director of the Nova Orchester Wien.
Though all five men have taken different paths to get to their current positions, they all benefited from public school music programs. Mississippi is known as the Birthplace of Music, and these men are no exception.