Tribute to Wilmer Wise and Harold Jones

Please click the image to see my tribute to the great artists Wilmer Wise and Harold Jones. Harold was a founder of the Symphony of the New World, and Wilmer was a soloist and one of the greatest trumpet players in the world.

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Wilmer Wise’s Mom

Wilmer Wise: She played the radio:-) She was the 9 year old smart ass kid’s escort to his summer music program

It hit me like a ton of bricks one day…….Mom grew up in the segregated South and here she was escorting this crazy trumpet playing kid around in groups that she would not have been in earlier. She never said a word to me about her feelings. I grew up being the only colored kid in the group………….we weren’t black in those days:-) Mom was a HERO!!!!

Wilmer Wise Quote about racism in 1960’s Philadelphia

“Jim………..The cops in Philly stopped me back un the good old days on South Street,I was dressed in White- Tie and Tails. I was on my way to the Academy of Music to play with the Philadelphia Orchestra. I lived in walking distance of the hall………They were dressed in leather and they had a very angry German Shepard with them. They asked me to prove that I owned the 3 horns in the case. I picked up my C trumpet and played the loudest notes I have ever played………..With hands on guns they told me to get the heck off the street. I miss Philly:-)”

Wilmer related this experience in response to getting his first hoodie and the jokes that followed noting it was a dangerous piece of clothing to wear in light of the Trayvon Martin case.

More Wikipedia source material to demonstrate the kind of racism black classical musicians faced when the Symphony of the New World was formed.

Premiere Concert: Symphony of the New World at Carnegie Hall, 73rd Season

Elayne Jones said, “The legitimacy of our organization was not acceptable until we had people who were supporting us. We had to have donations to begin to establish as a viable organization and to get union support! We had to begin getting players for this orchestra. All I remember is how complicated it was and what we went through. We had to also deal with those who said it couldn’t be done.”

However, in May 1964, my father and 12 prominent musicians, including Harold Jones and Joe Wilder, formed a founding committee. My father had worked with conductors Dean Dixon, Everett Lee*, and an untold number of world-class nonwhite musicians for 25 years, and it was time.

It took almost a year to raise the money. I remember my father making calls to potential donors and crying when he could not understand why certain people refused. However, he didn’t give up. With a grant from the Martha Baird Rockefeller Foundation, The Symphony of the New World gave it’s premiere concert on May 6, 1965, in Carnegie Hall, during the Hall’s 73rd Season.

The program notes stated, “At this period in our history, when the problem of racial integration has become crucial to our nation’s well-being as well as to its position in the world, the debut concert of The Symphony of the New World is a historic event in the history of our time. Under the direction of the noted conductor and music director Benjamin Steinberg, the Symphony consists of 36 Negro and 52 white musicians. Never before in the musical history of the nation has such a completely integrated symphonic ensemble been created.”

The program notes also stated, “In creating job opportunities for many talented nonwhite instrumentalists, who hitherto have not been widely accepted in this nation’s symphony orchestras, the Symphony of the New World aims to serve as an example of the principle of racial-equality-in-action. In the belief that so many of our symphony orchestras are not of today’s world, it has called itself the Symphony of the New World.”

Wilmer Wise told me, “You know, I got the Baltimore job and played with Philadelphia without the Symphony of the New World, but I never felt in my life the way I did when I sat on the stage with your father in a fully integrated orchestra, because, usually, I was the one integrating it.”

The papers for the Symphony of the New World reside at the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture. Their contact details are 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York, NY 10037-1801, (212) 491-2200

* The article about Everett Lee has several errors. First, my father was not Canadian. He was American. Second, the orchestra was not called the New World Symphony. That is Symphony #9 by Dvorak, referring to America as the New World, as opposed to Europe. Next, the article does talk about the demise of the orchestra for financial reasons. That is correct, but I cannot talk about that at this time.