Black History Month
History. Tradition. Community.
February is Black History Month.
Since 1926, and the creation of Negro History Week by Carter G. Woodson, the accomplishments of persons of African descent have been recognized each February. The Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights is proud to present Future History Makers, a profile series featuring emerging leaders from the Twin Cities African American community who share our ideals of advancing civil rights and removing barriers to equity. We also recognize the kinship of their work to those who are legacy trailblazers. Thus, in a brief question and answer profile, we uniquely celebrate the past, present, and future.
Future History Maker
Future History Maker Roderick Cox is breaking barriers in Minnesota, and inspiring future generations to surpass any and all limitations. Recognized as one of America’s fastest rising young conducting talents, Cox currently serves as the Assistant Conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra, a position to which he was appointed in April 2015.
A native of Macon, Georgia, Cox grew up in the heart of Georgia football country and family engaged in sports. However, even at a young age Cox sought to chart a different path. He would spend time in his room playing gospel records and imagining himself as a conductor. As a young student Cox explored his love for music as a percussionist and French horn player at a fine-arts high school in Macon. Yet, at the time Cox did not foresee a career as a conductor, instead he thought he would perhaps become a band director or music teacher. Later as an undergraduate student at Columbus State University’s Schwob School of Music, Cox was inspired by symphony performances and decided there were pieces he would like to conduct that would not be possible as a band director. Not wanting to limit himself, Cox decided to make the sacrifice and put in the hard work necessary to accomplish his goals.
In 2009, he received a bachelor of music degree in music education from Columbus State University, graduating summa cum laude. Cox later received a master’s degree in conducting from Northwestern University. After graduating from Northwestern University, Cox served two years as the music director of the Alabama Symphony Youth Orchestra and the assistant conductor of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. In this position he led the symphony in new works by contemporary composers Gabriel Kahane, Andrew Norman and Henry Panion. During this time he was awarded the Robert J. Harth Conducting Prize from the Aspen Music Festival in 2013, which led to national recognition and a return to the festival as a fellow.
Now as Assistant Conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra, Cox has a range of responsibilities from leading Young People’s Concerts, family programs and outdoor community concerts to serving as cover conductor for many classical subscription and “Live at Orchestra Hall” concert performances. During the 2015-16 season, Cox made his conducting debut with the National Symphony (Washington, D.C.), Detroit Symphony, Nashville Symphony, and Florida Orchestra. Cox was selected by the League of American Orchestras as one of five conductors to present in the 2016 Bruno Walter National Conducting Preview, a prestigious showcase for young conductors from around the country. Cox’s highlights for the 2016-2017 season includes a subscription concert debut with the Minnesota Orchestra, debut concerts with The Cleveland Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, and Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra. Cox also conducted a performance sponsored by Google and the Colour of Music Festival for the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington D.C.
Cox is passionate about his music and uses his influence to make an impact on community. Cox seeks to challenge the European monopoly in classical music. Cox says, “As one of the very few African-American conductors in the world, unlike some of my colleagues, I have to think about how to inspire young African-American musicians.” He supports initiatives that support black string players. He thinks critically about issue of diversity and inclusion and wants to ensure black string players have the opportunity to play in orchestra, or become soloists. Cox’s work is focused on connecting young string players with managers, agents, orchestras to help bridge that gap.
Acting on this passion, Cox recently led the Minnesota Orchestra in a debut performance at Minneapolis’ Shiloh Temple International Ministries in North Minneapolis. Cox performance was an inspiration to many, particularly young people who aspire to advance in the music field. Cox continues to serve as a key link to the community, participating in engagement activities, school visits and collaborations with other Minnesota arts and cultural institutions.
Most Rewarding Work Experience
My classical subscription debut concert with the Minnesota Orchestra was quite the rewarding experience for me. A marquee concert with one of the nation’s best conductor is something every young conductor dreams about. For me, it became reality, and now I feel I can turn a corner by setting new goals for myself.
I worked extremely hard over the course of a year to prepare the music. However, I really used what felt like a lifetime of experience to help with my approach to the concert.
What Inspires You
The music motives me. The music is bigger than any one person or organization. In the midst of any disappointment, the music is dependable and is something I can always return to for inspiration to continue onward. Music keeps me grounded, but also pushes me to work harder to tap into a greater potential.
I’m inspired by examples of great leadership. I have many people who inspire me from Serena Williams to Barack Obama. Anyone who is in a high pressure position of leadership and doing the best they can inspires me to pick myself up and keep going.
Advice for Inspiring Professionals
I chose to be a part of an elusive profession. There is no path that is the same for any conductor. If someone is seeking a life as a professional musician, I would advise them not to do it if they can imagine themselves doing anything else. You can’t want to be a musician; you have to need to be one. This is the only way you will have enough hunger and determination to fight and claw your way to the top. Once your decision has been made to pursue a career in music, there should be no turning back. There should be no distractions and allow nothing to prohibit you from reaching your dream.
- Macon, Georgia
- Columbus State University’s Schwob School of Music, BA
- Northwestern University, Masters of Conducting
Like Cox, today’s Legacy Leader Lou Bellamy is an artistic pioneer who broke through barriers and serves as a role model to future generations. Lou Bellamy is the founder and Co-Artistic Director of Penumbra Theatre Company in Saint Paul, Minnesota. During his thirty-nine year tenure, Penumbra evolved into one of America’s premier theaters dedicated to dramatic exploration of the African American experience. Under his leadership, Penumbra grew to be the largest theater of its kind in America and produced 39 world premieres.
Bellamy is an OBIE Award-winning director, an accomplished actor, and for 38 years was appointed as Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. Directing credits include plays at Arizona Theatre Company, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Penumbra Theatre, Signature Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Cleveland Play House, Indiana Repertory Theatre, The Guthrie Theater, The Kennedy Center, and Hartford Stage Company.
Bellamy was born and raised in the Rondo district of St. Paul Minnesota. He received his bachelor’s degree at Minnesota State University-Mankato and received his masters in theater arts at the University of Minnesota.