While earning her graduate degree at Peabody, Chelsey Green (MM ’09, Viola) participated in an annual concert held every Black History Month at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel. Since 1990, Black students from the Peabody Conservatory have performed classical, jazz, gospel, and blues music at these special events presented by the Columbia (MD) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated, a service organization and the largest organization of Black women in the country.
“The Peabody Links Concert was a very special event for me and my classmates,” Green recalls. The Links, Incorporated was founded in 1946 and has grown to 299 chapters located in 41 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, and the United Kingdom. Its membership consists of more than 17,000 professional women of African descent, and as one of the nation’s oldest and largest volunteer service organizations, it is committed to civic, cultural, and educational programs that transform lives through the arts, health and human services, international and national trends and services, and services to youth. “To have such a dynamic organization take the time and effort to present us—even as students—meant so much and served as a beautiful illustration of the generous support from the greater Baltimore community of young, emerging artists.”
The Links concerts were created in 1990 by Rosemary Davis, a Peabody staffer and Links member, and then Peabody Conservatory Dean Eileen Tate Cline. At the time, Peabody’s Black students didn’t have many opportunities to perform diverse repertoire for diverse audiences as part of their training. “They were concerned that the students of African descent at Peabody were not getting the kind of public exposure that would allow their careers to grow,” says Lisa Cooper-Lucas, current president of the Columbia Links chapter, who added that the first small concert started in Dean Cline’s living room.
The first public concert was held in 1990 at the interfaith Meeting House in Oakland Mills in Columbia, Maryland. The following year, Davis and Cline formed a partnership with the Applied Physics Laboratory, whose Kossiakoff Center has welcomed the concert ever since. “When the community was invited to attend these performances is when it really began to grow,” Cooper-Lucas says. “We’re now 30-plus years and not missing a beat— we missed one year at the beginning of the pandemic—and it’s really become a part of the fabric of Howard County in ways that really incentivize us, as a chapter, to continue to grow it. When people see me in the community, they ask, When’s the concert going to be?”
In addition to making an annual donation to Peabody to support students and special activities, the Columbia chapter pays performers a stipend and encourages them to talk with the audience in the post-concert receptions, where they sometimes receive invitations to give master classes at schools or learn about other performance opportunities. For the 20th anniversary concert in 2010, the Columbia Links chapter put together a CD recording featuring concert alumni.
Now, after more than three decades, a number of noted Peabody alumni have performed at these annual concerts, including: pianist/composer
Nathan Jolley (BM ’09, Jazz Percussion) and his percussionist/composer brother Noble Jolley (BM ’09, Jazz Piano), Dion Cunningham (MM ’13, Piano), Roderick Demmings, Jr. (BM ’16, Organ), Ismael Guerrero (BM ’20, Cello), and Juliette Jones (BM ’08, Violin), the founder and creative director of Rootstock Republic, an organization dedicated to enabling Black, indigenous, and string musicians of color to be seen, heard, and celebrated onstage and in the studio.
Every year the chapter invites an alumnus back for the concert, forging relationships across generations of Peabody musicians. For the 33rd annual Peabody Links concert in February, Green came down from Boston, where she’s an associate professor of strings at the Berklee College of Music. “It warmed my heart to be back,” Green says. “While it was exciting to perform in this special concert again, it was a true thrill to see and hear the current Peabody students perform, learn about their musical goals, and watch their journey begin.”
— Bret McCabe