With her soulful sultry voice, Lea Gilmore is a gospel, blues and jazz singer that is admired by many.
For the past decade, the Baltimore native toured the country educating students about music. On June 1, she sang and recorded a CD at the Eubie Blake Center in front of a packed house. Gilmore, considered an expert on African American traditional music, has led enthusiastic workshops and community sings all over the world.
Now, Gilmore has created a program called “Baltimore Voices,” a choral music program focused on middle school students from troubled neighborhoods. The AFRO spoke to Gilmore about her plans to help Baltimore and new music endeavors.
AFRO: Why did you decide to help Baltimore students?
Lea Gilmore: I have worked with so many kids around the world using our traditional Black American music to teach how incredible our history is, as well as equality, justice and peace. I thought I needed to be doing this in my own city.
AFRO: Are there any school in particular?
Lea Gilmore: Yes. We are at one school now, with ambitions to expand. Franklin Square Elementary/Middle School with the amazing principal Terry Patton. She is so supportive of this initiative and is an excellent partner and motivator. We are focused on Baltimore City
AFRO: How will music help students?
Lea Gilmore: There have been so many studies done that prove that students who are involved in music excel academically and socially. To sing from your soul with a group builds self-esteem and confidence. Not only students who can afford art lessons should have access to lessons. I see this as a social justice issue. The arts are not a luxury, but a necessity.
AFRO: What type of music will you introduce to them?
Lea Gilmore: I’ll start with traditional African American music as a foundation, so they can learn their history and the amazing music we have created that has provided the foundation of pop music here and around the world. We will also learn traditional music from other cultures-- always with the message of tolerance, freedom, peace, justice--and the acceptance of others.
AFRO: What do you hope to accomplish?
Lea Gilmore: To make proud, caring human beings who are ready to give to the world their myriad of gifts.
AFRO: You recently returned from Siberia. Are there any upcoming travel plans and will students accompany you?
Lea Gilmore: Yes I did. I will be in Scotland in July; in the fall Belgium, France and Italy. In 2014 the students will perform and at a workshop in Scotland. We are raising money now for the trip. The Creative Alliance has kindly assisted us in making this happen.
AFRO: What did you introduce to the students in Siberia? Did you notice a change?
Lea Gilmore: It was such an amazing experience. I taught the children spirituals and gospel and we sang an entire concert together. Even through the language barrier, our music speaks. They were so enthusiastic. When I go back next March I will be singing with the philharmonic in Novosibirsk, Siberia (Russia). I did notice a change. At first they were hesitant to let themselves really feel it (and of me!), but by the end they were singing "Oh Happy Day" from their heart and soul. So many tears of joy