How 1 conductor is changing the face of classical music

Orchestra conductor Jeri Lynne Johnson discusses her career and the founding of the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra.
2:47 | 03/23/23

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Transcript for How 1 conductor is changing the face of classical music
- The woman bringing beautiful music to life, one of the few Black women conductors, leading the nation's 1,600 orchestras. In fact, a 2016 study from the League of American Orchestras estimates only 20% of them are conducted by women. We recently caught up with Maestro Jeri Lynne Johnson before a performance of her Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra at Philadelphia's Barnes Foundation. [ORCHESTRA PLAYS] JERI LYNNE JOHNSON: Music is something-- you know, it's our first art form. Even before we can sing, we have a heartbeat in the mother's womb. And so, for me, music has been with us since forever. When I was a young child, I just played stuff by ear. And one day, my parents heard me on a friend's piano and said, where did you learn that? And I said, you know, I heard it off the radio. So, at four, I started piano lessons. And then some more family friends took me to my first orchestra concert. I very clearly remember falling in love with just the music. You know, in my seven-year-old brain, I kind of worked out that I didn't see a piano on the stage. And if I wanted to make the music that I heard on the stage, I was going to have to do what that man with the stick was doing. So now we can hear each other. Let's just start right on B3. MARY JAVIAN: I've been performing professionally for over 20 years, and I've worked with-- I can count on one hand the number of women conductors I've worked with. So I've always appreciated that about Jeri, that she is really doing something that not a lot of women before her have been able to do. [ORCHESTRA PLAYS] JAMES CLAIBORNE: I think there is a real pride in seeing this orchestra, and hearing their music, and seeing a Black woman in that position of leadership. [ORCHESTRA PLAYS] JERI LYNNE JOHNSON: The earliest obstacles were really, honestly, because I was a Black woman. I was told, essentially, that they could not hire me. I did not look like what the audience would expect the maestro to look like. And that was very painful, but also very eye-opening. It made me realize that I had a lot more potential than just being someone on the podium, that part of my job would be to maybe change that narrative around what a leader looks like, not just on the podium, but in life in general, and that's when I started Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra. [ORCHESTRA PLAYS] I thought it would be a real opportunity to have world-class musicians from different ethnicities and backgrounds be members of the orchestra. When I look at Black Pearl, it is my vision of America. It is different instruments, different viewpoints, different ethnicities, different people, all of us together in one place, creating beautiful music. That's what I want people to take away, that this-- this is America. - Ah, she's making history, and proving them wrong. I love to see it. - And it's so important for people to see people who look like them doing-- - Yeah. Representation matters. - Yes, very much.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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