Jacqueline Hairston
Jacqueline Hairston

Charlotte native Jacqueline Hairston said she can’t recall a time when music was not vital in her life. Even when her parents didn’t own a piano, she’d sit at the kitchen table and pretend to play and make up music.

“I think I was born with it,” she said in a 2011 television interview.

Her love for music (especially Negro spirituals) would take her on to the Juilliard School of Music, Howard University Music School, and Columbia University.

Now an internationally known composer, pianist and music educator, Hairston returns to Charlotte on Friday as a guest of the UNC Charlotte Department of Music, where some of her compositions and arrangements will be performed by Dr. Carl DuPont and choirs representing UNC Charlotte, Winston-Salem State University, and Park Road Baptist Church.

The event, free and open to the public, is called “Let It Shine: A Celebration of Black Art Songs and Spirituals.”

Now a resident of Sacramento, Calif., Hairston spoke with Qcitymetro about her work and the upcoming performance.

Q. What can you tell us about this concert?

The title of the show, of course, is “Let it Shine,” and it capitalizes on one of the repetitious lines that happens in one of my spirituals, and that spiritual is “This little Light of Mine.” And frequently what comes up in the song is the term “let it shine.” So that’s where the title comes from. But the reason I’m really excited is the level of participation… I’m excited to be here and work with the singers and hear my music, and it’s nice to be able to sit back and listen while others are performing your music.

YouTube video

“This Little Light of Mine” by Jacqueline B. Hairston was performed by Yolanda Rhodes and Josephine Gandolfi on Sunday, January 30, 2011 during the concert “Music by African American Composers: Yesterday & Today” which took place at the Eastside College Preparatory School, Performing Arts Center in East Palo Alto, California, USA.

Q. You grew up in Charlotte but have lived and worked all over. What is your background?

I went to Juilliard during my high school years, had three wonderful summer years with them. And then I went to Howard University for my undergrad work and Columbia University for my masters in music. So I feel truly prepared in the field of music I’m engaged in right now.

Q. What are you doing currently?

In Sacramento, in addition to still being a freelance artist and performer and working with students, I have a church job. I am a minister of music at First Baptist Church in Sacramento, and that’s kind of a new job. When I first moved to Sacramento in 2012, I was employed with another church called the Center of Creative Spirituality, and then another church after that. So between the church job, private coaching – piano and voice students – the writing and arranging, and the preparation for Carnegie Hall, which comes up in May, I stay busy.

Q. So you’ll be performing at Carnegie Hall?

I’ll be a guest conductor of three performing groups. The event is centered around my music, either my arrangement or compositions, and I’m also honored that I have the music of Wynton Marsalis. I’m honoring three people though this music – of course, Wynton Marsalis; Kathleen Battle, the extraordinary opera singer; and Alice Walker, the poet-writer. So I’m thrilled to be doing this music. The focus of that music is called The African Diaspora.

Q. What can concertgoers here in Charlotte expect on Friday?

They can expect a full range of music that has its base in that African Diaspora experience, the singing of spirituals, the singing of music – and not just my music but other extraordinary and phenomenal music makers in the African American idiom, so to speak. Not only choral singing but solo singing.

Q. What does this music mean to you?

My goodness; it’s part of my birthright, part of my ancestral leanings. It’s part of the folk song idiom; it’s passed down from generation to generation. When one picks it up and hears it, one wants to take it into their own interpretive sense, so to speak, recreate it and then, of course, make it like what’s considered my own thing. So it’s very meaningful for me to recreate and continually rearrange.

Q. Do you ever get back to Charlotte?

Not as frequently as I would like to. I was here in 2011 as a guest of Johnson C. Smith University, when I did a piano program for them. I also performed with the Johnson C. Smith University Singers, under the direction of Dr. Shawn-Allyce White. So that was the last time I was here. So I’m happy to be here in 2016.


Date: Friday, March 18, 2016
Start Time: 7:30 pm
End Time: 9:00 pm
Cost: FREE
Place: Rowe Recital Hall, UNC Charlotte (9201 University City Blvd
Charlotte, NC 28223)
More info: http://coaa.uncc.edu/calendar/let-it-shine

Connect with Jacqueline Hairston: Facebook | Website |

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Founder and publisher of Qcitymetro, Glenn has worked at newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Wall Street Journal and The Charlotte Observer.