AfriClassical Futures: Charles Joseph Smith
@ Elastic Arts
3429 W Diversey Ave, #208, Chicago, IL 60647
Opening Saturday, February 26th, from 8PM - 11PM
Charles Joseph Smith, born in October 22, 1970, is the son of Joseph Smith (deceased) and Emma Smith and brother of Stanley Smith (deceased). He started playing the piano when
he was eight and composing music when he was ten. This came not only when he heard Stanley play the piano earlier, but also when Charles acquired his own musical talent soon afterwards.
His piano teachers included James Williams, Sophia Zukerman, Emilio del Rosario, Pawel Checinski, Sharon Rogers, Kenneth Drake, Gustavo Romero and William Heiles. His composition teachers were Charlotte Lehnhoff and Sever Tipei.
At one time, he was a pianist for the Commonwealth Community Church, accompanying for the Gospelaires youth choir and the sanctuary choir.
As a high school student, Charles was a frequently awarded musician. For instance, in 1984, he won first place in the CAMTA (Chicago Area Music Teachers Association) piano contest. He received the Zoltán Kodály Academy and Institute Honorary Award in 1987 at the Three Arts Club in Chicago–one of the youngest musicians to ever receive the award.
In 1988, he won first place in the Society of American Musicians (SAM) competition at Roosevelt University, in Chicago. In the same year, he won first place in the Classical Music and Composition categories in the ACT-SO competition in Chicago (The acronym means African-American Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics, which was founded by Vernon Jarrett.) He then represented ACT-SO in the National Competition in Washington D.C. and won second place in Classical Music.
In 1989, he took first place in the local competition in the same categories and represented ACT-SO in the National Competition in Detroit, Michigan. In 1990, he won the ACT-SO First Place Award in Musical Composition at the local level and represented ACT-SO in the national competition in Los Angeles.
During the summers of 1985-1989, he attended music camps at Illinois State University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Chapman College in Orange County,
California. He also attended a Summer Piano Workshop at Oberlin College in Ohio in 1993.
He also competed in the Nathaniel Dett Club music competitions (sponsored by The National
Association of Negro Musicians, or NANM) in 1990, where he won the local competition and
won second place in the piano category at the national competition in Columbus, Ohio. In
addition, he won the local competition again in 1991 and represented NANM in the national
competition in Newark, New Jersey.
He started his undergraduate studies at Roosevelt University on a 4-year partial scholarship. While at the school, Charles performed his sophomore, junior, and senior recitals in 1992, 1993, and 1994. He earned a Franklin Honor Society Award in 1994 and was placed in the Who’s Who Of American Students In College and Universities from 1994-95. During that time, he was featured on a side issue of the campus’ Torch newspaper with student journalist Regina Waldroup. He earned the BM in Piano, cum laude.
In addition, he also was featured as a guest soloist with the South Side Family Chamber Orchestra on at least seven occasions, under conductors like Delano O’Banion and Terrance Gray. They did performances of piano concertos from Beethoven, Mozart, and Edvard Grieg. At one time,
Charles and the orchestra performed outside the Daley Plaza in Chicago in July 1987.
Charles developed a strong interest in opera , especially when he went to Roosevelt University. He became assistant musical director for Roosevelt University’s Opera Theatre in the 1993 production of The Magic Flute and the1994 production of Carmen.
Charles started graduate music studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1994, where he earned and MM in Piano Performance (1995) and a Doctor of Musical Arts in Piano Performance and Literature (2002). With all that, Charles’ recognition of his musical gifts on the University of Illinois campus spread almost rapidly. He played piano for plenty of talent shows all around campus, as well as did some accompanying work. At one time, he performed his own set of piano compositions in his own recital at 1997. Later, he was on a full front-page story in the Daily Illini on May 2000, written by Milton Carrero and photographed by Jesse Evans. He completed his doctoral work by doing an extended paper and performing in two lecture-recitals; his thesis was the Franz Liszt operatic arrangements for the piano. In February 2003, he also appeared on a side page of the same newspaper after performing in a Black History Opening Ceremony at the Illini Union at the campus, in 2003, which was televised repeatedly on the campus local channel for two weeks. He was also featured in the same year during the Culture Shock International Festival on the same campus.
In addition to his campus accomplishments, he had some success as a pianist abroad. He attended the French Piano Institute in Paris in July 2000 and won an Honorable Mention in their final recital and competition. He went to Italy in 2001 to compete in the IBLA Grand Prize International Competition in Sicily, where he won an Honorable Mention for Musicianship. In the same year, he also performed in a master class under famous Hungarian pianist Csaba Király at the International Piano Master Class in Budapest.
In March 2005, he performed his contemporary solo piano composition “Smooth Suspense” at the School of Designing a Society House Theater weekend in Urbana in March 2005. In May 2005, he performed background piano music during the Beverly Home Tour in Chicago. In June 2005, he attended the College Music Society’s Music Technology Conference at Illinois State University at Normal, IL, which he demonstrated a brief PowerPoint lecture of a sample college class outline. In July 2005, he appeared in the first paid overseas recital, a salon recital in the French town of St. Martin-de-Londres, with pianists Kimiyo Mochizuki and Christophe Sirodeau, and organized by Pascal Herpin, the president of the Préludes organization. During the recital, he performed the complete Visions Fugitives by Prokofiev, and the complete Rite of Spring arranged by pianist/composer Vladimir Leyetchkiss. In July 2005, he collaborated with professional Latin signer, Yammika Cespedes, in Berlin, Germany, completing a romantic salsa song, False Pride. He also attended his first major keyboard conference, the International Keyboard Institute Festival, being an auditor in plenty of master classes and recitals, and seeing performances from pianists Leslie Howard and Earl Wild. In August and October 2005, he also played his first piano gigs at the Iron Post in Urbana, IL, and also at Café Luna on the south side of Chicago. In October 2005, he attended his first electro-acoustic composition conference, Electronic Music Midwest, at the Kansas City Kansas Community College, (in Kansas City, KS) , where his original tape composition, “Synth vs. Synth”, was featured. In December 2005, he made his debut as a choral audience member in the 30th Annual LaSalle Bank’s Do-It-Yourself Messiah at the Civic Opera house in Chicago, IL. Finally, after a semester hiatus, he resumed his part-time accompanying duties at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts at Roosevelt University (his first alma mater).
In February, 2006, Charles participated in the Black History Celebration concert sponsored by the Chicago Music Association, performing the complete Sonata no. 1 by living African-American composer George Walker, and also performed his operatic piano transcription “Non più andrai” from Act II of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro in honor of Mozart’s 250th birthday. In addition, in the same month, he collaborated with minister of music, Randall Bradford, at the Commonwealth Community Church’s Black History Celebration Choral Concert, where he also performed his original Negro Spiritual medley and did piano accompaniment for Nate Williams, a bassist who was formerly with the African-American singing group, The Ink Spots.
He also has been a trustee as well as an accompanist for Andrew Schultze’s Chicago Syntagma Musicum (or “Musical Discourse”) from 2010 to 2014, working with scores of vocal students in at least 10 major engagements in the Fine Arts Building in Chicago and at the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, IL. These engagements included workshops and recitals mainly focusing on early music compositions, opera, or art song singing.
He also performed at the National Association for Negro Musicians’ “Black Fantasy” Concert, along with Metropolitan Opera tenor, Mark Rucker at the South Shore Cultural Center on August 14, 2014.
Charles also performed as an accompanist in two duo vocal concerts at the Fine Arts Building featuring soprano Jo Chiko and baritone Keanon Kyles on Saturday, April 16 and Sunday, April 17 of 2016.
In 2016 and 2017, Charles performed at the Kroc Center on the south side of Chicago in two separate concerts sponsored by the Commonwealth Community Church.
Also, with the help of Linda Tortorelli, who runs an autism program at UIUC, Charles was able to perform a postdoctoral piano recital at UIUC’s Music Building Auditorium on April 5, 2017 (his second since 2011). His event was part of a new non-profit organization, Celebration of Joy Inc., which was founded in 2014 to empower people under the autism spectrum through the performing arts.
On April 11, 2017, he was interviewed on CRIS Radio by Ruth Frazier, in care of the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind. Later that year, he was interviewed at Roosevelt University, his first alma mater, for a story called “Charles Joseph Smith (BM ’94) Fought Autism Towards Being an Accomplished Pianist” that was released on the Internet. Also, in that same year, he performed in recitals at the Chicago Cultural Center on April 15, Christ Church at Highland Park on April 23, at the Second Presbyterian Church on May 13, and at the Kroc Center in Chicago on November 17.
On February 2018, Charles debut his new DIY music album, “War of the Martian Ghosts” at the Hideout Chicago—as the debut headliner-performer, and earned the highest-grossing gate money in his musical career after the performances had ended. Charles had an article in Downbeat Magazine for the first time on May 18 of that same year, written by Aaron Cohen.
In October 2019, Charles Smith and Angel Bat Dawid performed together on multiple grand pianos at the Elastic Arts Foundation venue, with extra collaborative creators Hope Arthur on piano, and Sara Zalek and Cristal Sabbagh as improvised musicians/dancers.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Charles continued to perform virtually; in the month of November, he performed a brand new piano recital of original compositions at Pianoforte Chicago with emcee Lynn West for his fundraiser for his upcoming autobiography, and in that same month, he also delivered a Powerpoint presentation on Zoom, on the last movement of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” (Symphony no. 9 in D major), through the Lucky Pierre Free Online University with help of Jeff Kowalkowski. He also did a virtual impromptu electroacoustic music performance for the Experimental Music Studio’s “Autistic Pride” event, and eventually, earned at least two resilience grants from the Elastic Arts Foundation. As the pandemic lingered to 2021, Charles was able to perform with Adam Zanolini and Angel Bat Dawid in the “Chicago Takes Ten” in early March.
In April, 2021, he did a Zoom lecture-discussion on some of the rhythms of Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Stravinsky’s death.
Additionally, in August, 2021, Charles was able to do an outdoor DIY music performance at the Comfort Station in Logan Square in Chicago.
On October 1, 2021, s the pandemic started to wind down, he performed as a pianist in his debut at the Ear Taxi Festival in an ensemble, along with Angel Bat Dawid and Adam Zanolini in Angel’s compositional performance of “Sonata in an Empty Room”.
Charles also appeared in a full-length alumni piano recital on October 17, 2021 at his first alma mater, Roosevelt University, Chicago, and was invited to perform at the Yummy Bowl restaurant in Highland Park in November, with the help of his friend, Lynn West. Later on, during the Thanksgiving holiday, Charles was invited to debut as a guest at WZRD Studios at NEIU campus with host Cathleen Schandelmeier. Later on, in December 2021, as the Gallery Cabaret reopened, Charles performed twice in the same open mic that was held at the place for many years—the first time ever he did it.
In addition to his piano accomplishments, he also has an interest in creative writing, especially poetry. He also adores ballroom, Latin, and swing dancing, and his favorite dance is the salsa. He also continues to compose music.
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