Hamilton-Garrett Music and Arts Academy celebrates anniversary, future expansion
For 20 years, the Hamilton-Garrett Music and Arts Academy has brought soaring spiritual melodies and the rich history of Black music to the Roxbury community. This year, they’re celebrating their 20th anniversary and the centennial anniversary of co-founder Ruth Hamilton with a free concert and an exciting expansion.
Charles Street AME Church congregation members Ruth Hamilton and Elta Garrett founded Hamilton-Garrett in the church. Hamilton, who died in 2001, was a world-renowned contralto who studied with Roland Hayes and was a constant advocate for the power of spirituals. Garrett is also a talented musician who performed regularly for Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights movement and continues to sit on the board of Hamilton-Garrett today.
The school began with four girls taking classes in the church’s Sunday school room, learning the ins and outs of the music they heard during worship. One of those students was Gerami Groover-Flores, who now serves as the executive director of Hamilton-Garrett. The academy has come a long way since those early days; the nonprofit organization now runs a wide program of classes and musical groups out of its own building for students in kindergarten through grade 12. Students can take voice, guitar, percussion and violin as well as music theory, history, Black musical tradition and more.
Even with this growth and transformation, the values of the organization remain unchanged.
“[Hamilton-Garret] provides music education to students in the Boston area with a focus on the celebration and preservation of Black music, culture and traditions,” says Groover-Flores. “Having Black music at the forefront of music education is extremely important, especially as it pertains to making sure you have a program that’s culturally responsive to the students that you are serving.”
A rich foundation in Black music history has proved invaluable both in terms of cultural connectivity and career paths. The academy boasts a 100% acceptance rate of students who apply to Boston Arts Academy, and many go on to earn full scholarships to Berklee and other arts institutions.
With decades of student success behind it, the academy is now turned towards the future. The organization is growing into the Hamilton-Garrett Center for Music and Arts, a larger umbrella that will continue to hold Hamilton-Garrett Music and Arts Academy while also expanding programs to a greater audience.
“What we hope to do through the center is continue to build on the mission and vision that Ruth Hamilton had for the academy but expand our reach to serving more youth in the Greater Boston area, partner with schools in the Boston area in their music programs as well as invite adults to also engage in our lessons,” says Groover-Flores.
This new era also ushers in important new partnerships, such as a connection with the Berklee Center for Africana Studies. This is the first community-based organizational partnership
of the Africana Studies center.
On June 10, Hamilton-Garrett Music and Arts will host an anniversary concert where its legacy began, at the Charles Street AME Church in Roxbury. Among other performances, the concert will feature the Hamilton-Garrett Youth Choir, an all-female chorus. The concert is free and open to the community, but Hamilton-Garrett is accepting donations to support its expansion.
“It’s truly inspiring to see an organization that really has its heart not only in preserving and celebrating our history, but also in understanding the importance of the community,” says Groover-Flores. “We’re looking forward to this being a moment when we can look towards the future.”