With a grandfather who sang in a traveling gospel quartet and a mother who was a singer, bass-baritone Dr. Carl DuPont says his decision to pursue music was natural.
DuPont has performed as Leporello in Don Giovanni and as a soloist with the Rochester Oratorio Society, Southwest Florida Symphony and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.
During a junior year recital, he realized that he wanted to perform more art by Black musicians, composers and artists that included and affirmed the experiences of people who looked like him. In retrospect, he says his choices of songs to perform were circumscribed by the traditional, canonical resources that were available.
“I realized that this music that we accept as part of the canon, and that is part of the requirement a lot of the times, actually reinforces a hyper-active recognition of Whiteness and that I wasn’t being represented,” DuPont says. “If we don’t see ourselves represented in the art, we don’t know that we exist.”
He resolved to find a repertoire that spoke to his culture and heritage, says Dr. James Grymes, chair of the Department of Music at University of North Carolina, Charlotte. One of DuPont’s subsequent choices was a setting of Langston Hughes’ “Dream Variations” by Black composer Margaret Bonds.
“At the end of his next recital, he held out the song’s final line: ‘Night coming tenderly, black like me.’” DuPont finally discovered what it felt like to truly identify with the music he was performing.
Upon his graduation from the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester and then Indiana University, where he received bachelor’s and master’s degrees, respectively, DuPont started a doctoral program at Indiana University.
He placed his studies on hold, however, as he was encouraged to move to Europe, where he began various performance work in Germany. After performing full time in an opera house, he felt that the work became monotonous.
“I realized I had more to give than that,” DuPont says.
The vocalist-scholar missed interactions with others, where he could share his passion for music and still have direct influence over artistic and administrative decisions. An opportunity to make a difference arose at the University of Miami, where DuPont earned his doctoral degree in vocal pedagogy, allowing him to teach younger musicians.
In 2014, DuPont was hired as an assistant professor of voice at UNC Charlotte, making him the first Black faculty member in the music department. Much of his work centers on diversity and inclusion in higher education in music.
He stresses the importance of “students advocating for themselves to remain visible, to remain audible, to be present and not to be written out of history,” by continuously investigating and challenging a canon of art still reflective of European philosophies.
“Academia, despite being progressive in some areas, can still be slow to change,” he says. “And music is one of the areas that is slowest to change because we honor and venerate this canon of music from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries as being core to what we do.”
DuPont takes pride in being able to introduce his students to the works of prominent Black composers and musicians such as Charlie Parker, Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle and Jacqueline Hairston, with whom DuPont collaborated at a concert at Carnegie Hall.
“I think it would be a shame if, in my efforts for inclusion and diversity, I somehow left out the Black women who are such an important part of this process,” he says.
Grymes, DuPont’s department chair, adds that through the vocalist’s commitment to mentorship, undergraduate students have successfully performed a diverse repertoire of art on campus and have placed in state and regional competitions sponsored by the National Association of Negro Musicians and the National Association of Teachers of Singing.
Many of his students come with no previous private vocal instruction, but his French, German, Italian and English diction course – in addition to his music appreciation course, to name a few – have allowed DuPont’s students to blossom.
He said he hopes his former students go on to perform and teach full-time in different branches of music while advocating for their whole identity to be reflected in their music. This, he contends, will teach others that classical music is relevant, timely and not distant or culturally removed.
Dr. Carl DuPont
Title: Assistant Professor of Voice, University of North Carolina, Charlotte
Education: B.Mus., University of Rochester; M.Mus., Indiana University; D.M.A, University of Miami
Career mentors: Kevin Short, University of Maryland; Costanza Cuccaro, Indiana University
Words of wisdom/advice for new faculty members: Why aren’t you up studying, practicing and preparing already? Some people are already up working, and others never should have gone to bed! (The words of his mentor’s mentor.)