New Biden administration marks era of historic ‘firsts’

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Thanks in part to Biden’s new administration, we are entitled to another round of long-awaited firsts.

If confirmed, Army General Lloyd Austin will become the first Black Secretary of Defense, and Xavier Becerra, the Attorney General of California, will become the first Latin Secretary of Health and Human Services. Alejandro Mayorkas, whose parents immigrated from Cuba to the United States, has been called in to be Secretary of Homeland Security, and Janet Yellen will be the first woman to be Secretary of the Treasury. Cecilia Rouse would be the first woman of color to chair the Council of Economic Advisers, and Neera Tanden would be the first South Asian American and the first woman of color to become director of the Office of Management and Budget. Avril Haines would become the first woman to become director of national intelligence.

While Rep. Marcia Fudge would become the second black woman to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development (Patricia R. Harris under President Jimmy Carter was the first), she remains a compelling choice. And, a lot of smart people are hoping the New Mexico rep.Deb Haaland, aregistered memberof the Pueblo de Laguna and with the legacy of Jemez Pueblo, will head the Department of the Interior, which manages American public lands and Indian affairs.

While it’s essential to discuss candidates on their merits, I’ve reflected on our now bittersweet ritual of noting – if not always celebrating – innovative hires. It’s 2020! This number of “firsts” can be daunting. So it’s the bitter part – the opportunity costs associated with the long-standing lack of meaningful representation – that concerns me lately.

Having said that, my concerns sometimes take me to amazing places.

A friend recently shared a link to an extraordinary performance of an orchestral piece by composer Anthony Davis with the clarinetistAnthony McGill. Both are African-American, both are clearly national treasures. And yet, I only knew their names this week.

The room is calledYou have the right to remain silent, and was premiered recently and virtually with the Cincinnati Symphony. It tackles in the harshest musical terms the experience of black and brown communities with the police and theprison state. McGill is a revelation, a performance made even more powerful by a socially distant and masked orchestra (depending on the instrument).

I was absolutely unprepared for the emotional jolt of hearing my community’s cry emitted by classical music forms and emanating from the type of stage that has generally inclined Mozart more than McGill. It took me to a rabbit hole of music and left me in awe of the power of performance to transform even a stubbornly white arena, like classical music.

Lost in the whirlwind of a pandemic year, it was extraordinary news that Daviswon the Pulitzer Prize 2020in Music for the operaThe Central Park Five. (The librettist was the equally pioneering playwrightRichard wesleyThe subject matter, the 1989 arrest and conviction of five black and Latino teens for the rape of a white woman named Trisha Meili in New York City’s Central Park, is still tender. The five were exonerated by DNA evidence in 2002. “I think the artist is trying to figure out is empathy,” Davis tell NPR. “Watching him on stage – whether you’re African American, Caucasian, Asian, whatever – you become one of the five. You feel like you are the one being questioned. You feel how you could have been coerced . And then the loss of innocence that the five experienced is a very universal emotion.

And yet, not a universal impetus for an opera. As a novelty to come, black artists make up less than 2% of orchestras in the United States and the Metropolitan Operahas not yet puta work by a black composer.

McGill is the artistic director of the music promotion program at the Julliard School and principal clarinet of the New York Philharmonic, its first African-American principal player. This year he wonthe Avery Fisheraward for his extraordinary work, which is inextricably linked to his anti-racist activism and determination toincrease representation in classical musicand education.

Last spring, McGill launched the#TakeTwoKneesseries of performances, and spoke directly about the George Floyd murder and our unsolved story. “What the news this week and most of the weeks in my life shows, however, is that black life did not matter in our glorified past and that still doesn’t matter much. ‘importance today. “he wrote on Facebook.

One of his #TakeTwoKnees performances is called #MEMORIALforUSALL, who recognized by name some of the people lost in the United States during the double pandemic of COVID and racism. “We are also fighting another serious disease – racism – a scourge on our nation since its founding, and we are still fighting for equality,” he said in his opening remarks.

If you’re going to be heading to a classical music rabbit hole soon, and I hope you will, start The. It ends with the poignant and minor arrangement of “America the Beautiful”, as sweet as it is bitter. Trust me on this.

I now think it’s the perfect musical soundtrack for all of the expected premieres that we’re celebrating now, and all that are yet to come.

Ellen McGirt
@ellmcgirt
Ellen.McGirt@fortune.com


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