top of page

“I learned that what I wanted to express was beauty. Beauty is paramount, so the music's got to be melodious and pretty, and not many composers can say that today.”

H. Leslie Adams (b. 1932) is the winner of the 2015 Cleveland Arts Prize.  Born in Cleveland, Ohio, he attended school in California, and served many years as a choral conductor, show musical director, and educator, before becoming a composer full time in 1979. His music touches a wide variety of musical tastes and preferences. His stage work BLAKE was featured on the VOX Showcase of New York City Opera, and was published in a new edition in 2021. Adams' art songs have been sung by leading operatic artists worldwide including Kenneth Overton, Denyce Graves, Damien Geter, Louise Toppin, and many others. His orchestral and chamber music has been performed by the Chamber Orchestra of the Springs, Iceland Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra and Indianapolis Symphony, to name a few. Reviewers have observed that Adams' music is simple yet complex, fun yet serious, and spiritual yet nonreligious. Above all, his music touches the heart and soul in a personal manner. In addition to the Cleveland Arts Prize, Mr. Adams has been awarded by the Bascom Little Foundation and BMI. He was commissioned by the Mirror Visions Ensemble in 2019 and continues an active schedule as an organist and composer.  




1050 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste. 500

Washington, DC 20035

1740 Broadway, 15th floor

NYC, NY 10019


© 2023 The Denyce Graves Foundation

  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Instagram

Our Federal tax ID is 86-2276658. 

The Denyce Graves Foundation is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization. 

“When the audience understands that the main character has a very serious need to change his own heart and mind, the hook is set, and the audience is irrevocably invested.” 

Vincenzo Bellini was an Italian opera composer who was known for his long-flowing melodic lines for which he was named "the Swan of Catania". He was one of the most important composers of Italian opera in his time. Bellini began composing before receiving any formal music education. He developed a reputation for fine craftsmanship, particularly in the way he forged an intricate relationship between the music and the libretto. To perform one of his operas, singers required extremely agile voices. His abilities and talent earned him the admiration of other composers, including Berlioz, Chopin, and even Wagner, and his flowing, exquisitely sculpted vocal lines represent the epitome of the bel canto ideal. Bellini’s fame was closely bound up with the bel canto style of the great singers of his day. He was not a reformer; his ideals were those of Haydn and Mozart, and he strove for clarity, elegance of form and melody, and a close union of words and music. Yet with perseverance he corrected some of the grosser abuses of opera than current. While he subordinated the orchestra accompaniment to the singers and placed upon their voices the responsibility for dramatic expression, his harmony was more enterprising than that of his contemporary Gaetano Donizetti, and his handling of the orchestra in introductions and interludes was far from perfunctory. It is, however, for the individual charm and elegance of his luminous vocal melody that Bellini is remembered.



Hall Johnson was one of a number of American composers and arrangers–including Harry T. Burleigh, R. Nathaniel Dett, and Eva Jessye – who elevated the African-American spiritual to an art form, comparable in its musical sophistication to the compositions of European Classical composers. Johnson received an extensive education, which included a time at the Juilliard School. As a boy, he taught himself to play the violin after hearing a violin recital given by Joseph Henry Douglass, grandson of Frederick Douglass. He went on to play the violin and viola professionally, including in the orchestra for the 1921 musical, Shuffle Along. In time, however, he became more interested in choral music, forming the Hall Johnson Negro Choir, the first of many choral ensembles, in 1925. Hall Johnson and his choir became renowned through their participation in the 1930 Broadway production of Marc Connelly's The Green Pastures as well as in national and international tours of the play, radio versions, the 1936 film adaptation, and Hallmark Hall of Fame television broadcasts. Johnson would also go on to arrange music for and conduct his choir in more than thirty feature-length Hollywood films, as well as a number of short films and cartoons. He wrote Run, Little Chillun, which premiered on Broadway in 1933 and was produced in San Francisco in 1939 under the auspices of the Federal Theater Project. Also in 1939, the Hall Johnson Choir was featured in the soundtrack of the Frank Capra film, Lost Horizon. In addition to his theatrical work, Johnson wrote the Easter cantata Son of Man, which premiered at New York's City Center in 1946, the same year that the Hall Johnson Choir sang on Walt Disney's Song of the South. In 1951, the Hall Johnson Choir was selected by the United States Department of State to represent the United States at the International Festival of Fine Arts held in Berlin, Germany. Johnson was fluent in both German and French. Among the singers he coached were Marian Anderson, Robert McFerrin and Shirley Verrett. His arrangements of the spirituals have been recorded by some of the world's finest artists.


“For many years after emancipation, blacks turned their backs on the slave-created spirituals. Perhaps it was too bitter a reminder of the past. Today there is more ready acceptance of this part of our musical heritage. We certainly should not forget that ragtime, jazz, blues, swing, gospel, rhythm, and rock and roll all have stemmed from the spiritual! Although there have been many Afro-American contributions to the forms, styles and trends of American music, the original and the most beautiful remains the spiritual.”

Edward Boatner was an African-American composer who wrote many popular concert arrangements of Negro spirituals. He was educated at Western University in Quindaro, Kansas, Boston Conservatory and received a Bachelor of Music from the Chicago Music College (now the College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University). He also studied music privately. He began as a concert singer with the encouragement and assistance of Roland Hayes–who performed many of Boatner's works on his concert programs–and choral director R. Nathaniel Dett. He also sang leading roles with the National Negro Opera Company. For the National Baptist Convention, he served as the director of music from 1925 to 1931. Boatner was a professor for Samuel Huston College (now Huston-Tillotson University) and Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. He then settled in New York conducting a studio and directed community and church choirs. This allowed him to concentrate more on composing. His notable compositions include Freedom Suite for chorus, narrator, and orchestra; The Man from Nazareth, a "spiritual musical"; and Julius Sees Her, a musical comedy.


bottom of page