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The American Spiritual Ensemble to Perform at Sarasota Opera House

Concerts and Special Dinner will Honor Executive Director, Susan T. Danis

November 8, 2010

Patricia G. Horwell, Communications Officer
 (941) 366-8450, ext. 332

The American Spiritual Ensemble, led by Dr. Everett McCorvey, will perform two concerts in the William E. Schmidt Opera Theater of the Sarasota Opera House on Sunday, December 5.  The event will honor the Opera’s Executive Director Susan T. Danis, in recognition of the recent renovation of the Sarasota Opera House and the receipt of the 2010 Florida Trust Award for Outstanding Achievement in Historic Restoration and Rehabilitation.
The concerts and dinner are sponsored by Bill and Casiana Schmidt. “It is important for us to leave a legacy in this world,” the Schmidts said. “The renovation of the Sarasota Opera House gave us that opportunity not only to leave the legacy of our name but to create something that can be enjoyed by everyone in Sarasota and beyond and for many generations to come.”
The day will begin with a Community Concert at 1:30 p.m., followed by a second concert and elegant dinner that evening, all beginning at 6 p.m. Because of Mr. and Mrs. Schmidt’s generosity, proceeds from the event will go toward supporting Sarasota Youth Opera’s next commission, Little Nemo in Slumberland; and rewarding the efforts of the Opera staff.
 “If you truly love something and are passionate about it, you really must put your money where your heart is; our hearts are very much with the Sarasota Opera,” they said.
Founded in 1995, the American Spiritual Ensemble’s mission is to keep the American Negro Spiritual alive. Members are soloists in their own right and they have performed for audiences around the globe with their renditions of classic spirituals, opera, jazz, and Broadway numbers. Dr. McCorvey holds an endowed professorship in voice and is director of opera at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY.
The American Negro Spiritual has a distinct place in this country’s history. “The spirituals are the folk songs of the American negro slaves. And from the spirituals, many sorts of music and art forms grew,” says Dr. McCorvey. “But when the slaves came over they were not allowed to bring their instruments. They only had their voices. And so when they would work in the fields, or when they would meet privately, they would sing. And the slave masters did allow them in some cases to go to their churches, and sit in the back, or whatever. Because they had to assimilate the ways of their slave masters, they took the music, the rhythms of their culture, and combined it with the music that they heard in America. And they created this new music called the spirituals.” Spirituals were often crafted with hidden or secret meanings, which only the Christian slaves understood. The word “home” can mean heaven, but covertly means a free country, a haven for slaves.  The Negro Spirituals “The Gospel Train” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” actually refer to the Underground Railroad, which aided many slaves in finding freedom.
Susan T. Danis, this event’s honoree, has served as the Executive Director of Sarasota Opera for the past twelve years. During this time the opera’s budget has grown from $3.2 million to more than $8 million, the board of trustees and staffing structures have been reconfigured to meet the ever changing needs of the company, and a $20-million renovation of the opera’s 1926 historic theater has been completed, as well as the renovation of the company’s 16-unit apartment com¬plex. Additionally she has fostered the development of the ongoing commissioning of new works for the Opera’s Youth Opera program and the opera has raised more than $47 million during its Building on the Vision capital campaign.
“I am so grateful to Bill and Casiana Schmidt for creating such a wonderful event that will benefit Sarasota Opera. The renovation of the Opera House was a dream come true for me and I cherished every crazy moment,” Ms. Danis said. “I truly share this honor with a committed staff, incredible donors, and the support of the City of Sarasota and the media. What a great day it will be and what a treat for our community to be entertained by Dr. Everett McCorvey and the American Spiritual Ensemble.”
Ms. Danis recently served as treasurer of the Board of Trustees of OPERA America, and is currently Vice Chair of the Board of the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau. She was also awarded the prestigious “She Knows Where She is Going Award” from Girls, Inc. and is a distinguished (emeritus) board member of the Sarasota Music Archive, the Sarasota Downtown Partnership Roundtable, a member of the Com¬munity Advisory Board of the Junior League, and a past board member of the Sarasota County Arts Council and The New Gate School of Sarasota. She has been a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts, Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.
The Spiritual Ensemble also has recorded four CDs and is featured in the 2007 PBS documentary “The Spirituals.” Members of the ensemble have sung in theaters and opera houses around the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and abroad in Italy, Germany, Britain, Scotland, Spain and Japan.
Tickets, priced at $15 for the matinée, and $25-$75 for the evening performance, are on sale now at the Box Office, by phone at (941) 366-8450, ext. 1, or online at Tickets for the dinner are $150 per person and are available by phone or in person at the Box Office.