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Meet the Musicians

A Q&A with Music Innovator Wordsmith

Credit: Jerry Jackson, courtesy of the Baltimore Sun.

In recent years—and to great acclaim—symphony orchestras and hip-hop artists have teamed up; songwriter and poet Wordsmith was an early adopter of this fusion. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Wordsmith has collaborated with his hometown band—the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra—since 2018. As an artistic partner of that ensemble, he has re-interpreted works by Saint-Saëns, Stravinsky and Beethoven, and was commissioned earlier this year to write and premiere Network to Freedom, a reflection on the Underground Railroad.

As part of our concert program celebrating Juneteenth, Wordsmith will make his Orchestra Hall debut, performing his Made In America. The composition reflects on the American Dream, giving audiences a new way of understanding this national ethos. Before Wordsmith lands in Minneapolis, we had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about Made In America and his life in music.

You’re a former football player, an entrepreneur, playwright, philanthropist…What role has music had in your busy life?

I’ve been blessed to wear many hats in this lifetime, but music has been the universal language that’s allowed me to tour to 11 different countries in my career. Music can be intimate, a communal experience and a way to break the ice when there are language barriers or a difference in views. When it comes to my everyday life, music is attached to memories; good and bad (lol).  It puts me in certain moods to be creative or provides a soundtrack to mundane tasks.


To say that your music spans genres might be an understatement. In fact, you’re working on both a house music and jazz poetry album right now. But tell us about performing with a live symphony orchestra—how is it similar or different to other stages you’ve performed on?

I don’t think anything can replicate the power of performing with a symphony orchestra. I’ve played to thousands of people numerous times in my career, but being a black man in classical music can’t be taken for granted. I appreciate each milestone, earning the respect of my colleagues and carving my place in the classical ranks.

It’s euphoria when you hear an orchestra play a new piece you wrote and composed.

Then there is this element where your body of work isn’t recorded or distributed to the masses most of the time, so performing with a symphony orchestra can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience played once, twice or just a handful of times.


Speaking of, what can a vocalist express that a symphony can’t? And on the flip side, what can a symphony express that a vocalist might not be able to?

A vocalist can control the crowd in the most positive way while being a mouthpiece for those who may not be able to speak up for themselves. When I write, I’m writing for my community and seeking to be relatable to the blue-collar citizens of the world. On the flip side, a symphony orchestra soaks all of the emotion out of a piece. It’s the same reason movies and TV utilize music; it sets a mood, a tone, a setting and the atmosphere you want the audience to live in.

Music video for Wordsmith's "Beautiful Reflection," from his 2021 album "Bittersweet."

Your hip hop-orchestral fusion Made in America borrows from such influences as Maurice Ravel and Ludwig van Beethoven, Wu-Tang Clan and Notorious B.I.G. Tell us more about your composition of this piece, and how all these different elements fit together.

When I create music, not only do I want it to be entertaining, but there has to be a message attached to it. I wanted to tell the story of the America Dream through some of my original songs, classical hip-hop selections and well-known classical pieces. For example, we kick off Made In America with just the symphony orchestra playing Rimsky-Korsakov’s Procession of the Nobles fused into Lil Nas X’s Industry Baby.

If you’re telling the American Dream it has to start at birth, and what better way to symbolize that then having two pieces with big brass moments announcing the birth of a child into this world. I follow that up with an original piece of mine called Welcome Home, which has a lot of layers to the title. Yes, it symbolizes bringing the baby home for the first time, but more than anything it focuses on going back to days when we were great neighbors, said thank you, gave a helping hand, looked out for each other, et cetera. A welcome home to normalcy and the start of finding your purpose in this life.

From there, we enter the teen to young adults years where getting a job and earning cold hard cash leaves you with sleepless nights, doing things you normally wouldn’t do to survive and making it through those cold winter nights. I utilized Vivaldi’s Winter and Wu-Tang Clan's C.R.E.A.M. to tell this part of the story. I look forward to sharing the rest at the concert.


Of course, you’re making your Minnesota Orchestra debut in a concert that celebrates and remembers Juneteenth. What does Juneteenth mean to you?

First and foremost, I’m grateful to the Minnesota Orchestra for being bold and supportive of celebrating Juneteenth in the classical world. Now, the simple answer is Juneteenth symbolized the end of slavery in America, but I see it as a great moment to raise up our black leaders, revive legacies that may have been forgotten and keep conversations of black injustices alive in our communities. I’m honored to have a platform to speak on these important topics via Made In America.

See Wordsmith perform Made In America alongside conductor Jonathan Taylor Rush, vocalist Ashley DuBose and the Orchestra on June 14 at 8 p.m.

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