Meet Angelica Hairston, a Black Harpist Empowering the Next Generation of Artists of Colour

If you love classical music and social justice, you need to know about Angelica Hairston. She is a harpist, educator, and activist who is using her talents to make a difference in the world. In this blog post, we will introduce you to her amazing work and achievements.

Angelica Hairston started playing the harp at the age of 10, after seeing a performance by Ann Hobson Pilot, the first African American woman to hold a principal position in a major symphony orchestra. She was inspired by Pilot’s grace and skill, and decided to pursue her own musical dreams.

She studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Canada, and later at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. She also participated in prestigious programs such as the Aspen Music Festival and School, the National Repertory Orchestra, and the Tanglewood Music Center.

As a professional harpist, she has performed with orchestras such as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. She has also appeared as a soloist and chamber musician at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Spivey Hall, and Koerner Hall.

But Angelica Hairston is not only a performer. She is also a passionate educator who believes in the power of music to transform lives. She is the Artistic Director of the Urban Youth Harp Ensemble (UYHE), a nonprofit organization that provides free harp instruction and performance opportunities to students from underserved communities in Atlanta.

UYHE was founded in 2000 by Elisabeth Remy Johnson, the principal harpist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The program serves over 80 students from grades 3 to 12, who learn to play on lever and pedal harps. UYHE students perform regularly at local events and venues, such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, the High Museum of Art, and the Georgia State Capitol.

Angelica Hairston joined UYHE as a student when she was 11 years old, and later became a teacher and mentor for younger students. She became the Artistic Director in 2016, and has since expanded the program’s curriculum, partnerships, and outreach.

She says that UYHE is more than just a music program. It is also a community that fosters confidence, creativity, and leadership among its students. She says that playing the harp has taught her valuable skills such as discipline, perseverance, and teamwork.

“I think playing an instrument teaches you so much about yourself,” she says. “It teaches you how to set goals, how to work hard, how to overcome challenges, how to collaborate with others.”

She also says that playing the harp has helped her overcome stereotypes and challenges as a woman of color in classical music. She says that she often faced discrimination and prejudice from people who doubted her abilities or questioned her belonging in the field.

She says that she was motivated by these experiences to create Challenge the Stats (CTS), a concert series that celebrates artists of color in classical music. CTS was launched in 2017 with a mission to empower high-caliber musicians of color, inspire new leaders in arts advocacy, and spark dialogue on diversity and inclusion in classical music.

CTS organizes concerts that feature diverse artists performing classical music from various traditions and cultures. The concerts are also accompanied by panel discussions that address topics such as racism, representation, and social justice in classical music.

CTS has partnered with organizations such as NPR Music’s From The Top, Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Emory University’s Center for Ethics, and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s Talent Development Program. CTS has also received grants from organizations such as South Arts and Alternate ROOTS.

Angelica Hairston says that CTS is her way of giving back to the community that supported her musical journey. She says that she hopes to inspire more young people of color to pursue their dreams in classical music.

She says that she believes that classical music can be a powerful tool for social change. She says that classical music can bring people together across differences, challenge stereotypes and biases, and amplify voices that are often silenced or marginalized.

“My vision for classical music is one where everyone feels welcome,” she says. “Where everyone feels like they have a place, a voice, and a contribution to make.”

Angelica Hairston is an example of an artist who is not only talented but also visionary. She is using her harp to make beautiful music and positive impact. She is a leader, a teacher, and a role model for the next generation of classical musicians.

We hope that you enjoyed learning about her work and achievements. If you want to support her and her initiatives, you can visit her website at, where you can find more information, videos, and links to donate.

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