Earlier this year, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) decided to disinvite two predominantly white high school choral groups from performance in the ASO’s holiday concert. The ASO’s decision was reportedly motivated by the high schools’ lack of diversity, which caused a stir among people who believe in racial justice as opposed to racial favoritism.
The ASO didn’t admit that their decision was racially motived. In fact, ASO vice president of marketing Charlie Wade offered only benign reasons for their decision in public. To get to the bottom of what happened, I used the Georgia Open Records Act to find out ASO’s real reason for disinviting the non-diverse choral groups.
Previously unpublished emails reveal that the ASO’s true reason was to “diversify the chorus” and to add “a chorus featuring more African-American kids,” as ASO marketing VP Charlie Wade privately wrote. This is blatant racial favoritism, reflecting the exact opposite of the ASO’s public remarks.
Prior to obtaining the emails, I had been critical of the ASO’s astounding hypocrisy with regard to diversity. There are 100 musicians comprising the ASO, and only one is black, yet the ASO had the gall to implicitly fault local Walton and Lassiter high schools for being non-diverse. Now, after reading the emails, we should add dishonesty and racial favoritism to the ASO management’s flaws.
Since the controversy began, Mr. Wade has offered bland, bureaucratic reasons for ASO’s decision, such as wanting to “open the program to other [choral] groups” as the Marietta Daily Journal reported. “Two years ago we told the choral directors from Lassiter and Walton that, after their December 2011 concerts with us — capping a four-year run – we would invite other high school choirs to sing with the ASO beginning in 2012,” Mr. Wade publicly claimed.
Missing from those evasive remarks is the blatantly racial criteria that motivated ASO’s decision, a motivation plainly stated in emails obtained through the Georgia Open Records Act. In explaining why ASO is “making a change” of choral groups, Wade wrote to Cobb school officials in May 2011 that “we were interested last year in trying to find a way to diversify the chorus and discussed adding another school chorus, but space being limited and the inability to reduce the number of singers from your schools to make room brought us to a dead end.” In a separate email, Wade specifically mentions “adding a chorus featuring more African-American kids — and we need to continue trying to figure that one out.” Judging from the emails, “diversifying the chorus” and “adding a chorus featuring more African-American kids” appear to be the sole reason that ASO decided to drop the Walton and Lassiter choral groups.