Symphony’s North Star Festival celebrates music of African Americans

Kathleen Battle performs March 16 (Photo provided)


Toledo has a rich history as a safe haven along the Underground Railroad, a 19th century network that helped many slaves escape to freedom. Toledo Symphony’s new North Star Festival highlights this local connection and celebrates the musical contribution of Black Americans throughout history.

The Toledo Symphony Orchestra will present this North Star Festival from February through April in a series of concerts and collaborations, presenting music by Black American composers and about Black American history—from songs brought over to America during times of slavery to more contemporary music that pays tribute to the brave men and women of the Civil Rights Movement.

“Lift Ev’ry Voice: The Musical Legacy of the Underground Railroad” will take place February 15, for two performances at 9:45 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. at the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle Theater. The Toledo Symphony Orchestra along with additional community organizations will come together to explore Toledo’s Underground Railroad history through music. Special friends from the Lathrop House will be on hand to narrate and make history come to life. This program features a screening of the word-less storybook “Unspoken” by Henry Cole and a sing-along of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” This event is sold out.

A Preschool Storytime will take place February 22, at 10:30 a.m. at the Sanger branch of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library. This Preschool Storytime will feature musical guest, members of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra. Free and open to the public. Registration required.

Reaching for Our Stars will take place February 25, at 5:00 p.m. at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church. The Toledo Symphony Orchestra will perform a neighborhood concert in celebration of Black History Month. Tickets at St. Martin de Porres, 419-241-4544.

An Instrument Petting Zoo will take place February 27, at 4:30 p.m. at the Kent branch of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library. Children will see, hear, and play a variety of orchestral instruments. Members of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra and the Toledo Symphony Youth Quartet will present music inspired by spirituals from the 1850s to present day. Free and open to the public.

“A Conversation on Romance and Spirituals” will take place March 1, at 6:30 p.m. at the West Toledo branch of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library. Merwin Siu, Toledo Symphony Artistic Administrator and Principal Second Violinist, will provide insights behind the programming of Romance and Spirituals, the Blade Chamber Series performance on March 11. Free and open to the public.

“Romance and Spirituals Open Rehearsal” will take place March 11, at 1:15 p.m. at the Main Library of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library. Audience members will hear music inspired by the Underground Railroad and experience a behind-the-scenes look at rehearsal as finishing touches are added to the program. Free and open to the public.

“Romance and Spirituals” will take place March 11, at 7 p.m. at the Main Library of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library. Small groups of musicians will perform in a genre-defying, music without words program, including a piece by Haitian-American composer Daniel Bernard Roumain inspired by the story of Rosa Parks. Tickets at

Kathleen Battle, “Underground Railroad—A Spiritual Journey” will take place March 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle Theater. Performed only in cities along the Underground Railroad, Metropolitan Opera star and Ohio native Kathleen Battle, joined by the Clarence Smith Community Chorus and the Voices at BGSU, presents a program of stories and spirituals inspired by the extraordinary journey to freedom during times of slavery. Tickets at

“I Dream,” presented by the Toledo Opera, will take place April 6 & 7 at 7:30 p.m. and April 8, at 2 p.m. at the Valentine Theatre. “I Dream” is a modern, rhythm & blues opera recounting the final 36 hours in the remarkable life of American icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Tickets at

“Classical Ellington” concludes the North Star Festival on April 20 & 21 at 8:00 p.m. at the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle Theater. These performances will explore the orchestral worldof Duke Ellington in his version of “The Nutcracker” and his own tone poem, “Harlem.” The program will also include the world premiere of Latin Jazz Suite by Alice Gomez, featuring TSO Principal Trumpet Lauraine Carpenter, and “Four Parables” by Toledo composer Paul Schoenfield, featuring pianist Natasha Paremski. Tickets at

“I’m very proud of the programming the Toledo Symphony has assembled for this new North Star Festival. It’s an honor to highlight our local heritage and showcase more diverse music. I hope everyone will join us in one way or another to celebrate with music,” said Felecia Kanney, Director of Marketing for the Toledo Symphony.

Tickets to the North Star Festival performances are available at or by calling the Toledo Symphony Box Office at 419-246-8000.