A Famous Concert Violinist Who Defied Stereotypes

Man playing violin
Shonda Buchanan
October 20, 2020

When the spotlight landed on him, he carefully poised his violin bow. He was confident in his ability – but unsure what this white audience would make of a Black virtuoso. Would they be angry? Amazed? He was about to find out.

Joseph Douglass’ debut at the 1893 Chicago’s World’s Fair could change perceptions of Black people, his grandfather told him. But would it really? And did it matter?

This doubtful white audience didn’t think a Black man was intelligent enough to play the violin. They only showed up to see what a “monkey” could do. But he didn’t need their approval.  

What was the secret ingredient for his confidence?

His grandfather, Frederick Douglass, had taught him that self-determination would be the key to his own happiness – whether whites approved or not!  

He began to play – and the audience was entranced AND ashamed. They applauded! He worried, though, that whites angry at his Black excellence might try to punish him for being better than them. Did they?

No! He finished his concert safely, and became a successful international concert violinist

Black artists and musicians unconcerned with white approval practice self-determination through their art. Like Douglass, we can use our gifts to challenge perceptions of our people while determining our own fates.  How are you using your gifts to determine your own fate?

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