Special to The Truth
Toledo Opera celebrates Juneteenth all over the city and is working with NYC based organization The Pleiades Project to highlight the contributions and genius of Black Women Composers. Winners Amber Cierra Merritt and Ikpemesi O of the 2022 Black Brilliance Competition performed live at the Juneteenth Community Health & Wellness Fair, Saturday, June 18 at Smith Park, and at the BlackNIQ Festival at Uptown Green.
The Black Brilliance Competition was created in 2021 by Jhané Perdue, Artistic Projects Coordinator at the Pleiades Project to celebrate Black artists, especially musicians, composers, poets, and other creators. While the Pleiades Project is primarily focused on creating performance opportunities for women in the arts, this competition is open to all, with the stipulation that submissions be written by Black Women. The 2021 competition was generously supported by Black Opera Alliance’s Derrell Acon, baritone and Arts Activist. For 2022 The Pleiades Project is partnering with Toledo Opera, and thanks to their generous collaboration and support, two winners appear in Toledo Opera live events in celebration of Juneteenth.
Classical soprano Amber Merritt performed music by black composers and poetry and mezzo soprano Ikpemesi O performed some of her original poetry.
First Place Winner, Daniel Rich for his performance of “The Glory of the Day Was in Her Face” by Florence Price. Second Place Winner, Angeli Ferrette for her performance of “Don’t Feel No-Ways Tired” arranged by Jacqueline Hairston. Third Place Winner, Amber Cierra Merritt for her performance of “Winter Twilight” by Rosephanye Powell. Honorable Mention, Ikpemesi Oluwafifunmi Ogundar for her poem “Love, Identity, and Purpose.”
The 2022 Black Brilliance Competition was judged by Myra Merritt-Grant. Merritt-Grant received her bachelor’s degree from the Peabody Conservatory of Music and master’s degree from the Catholic University of America; made her Metropolitan debut in 1982 as the Shepherd Boy in Wagner’s Tannhauser; other roles at the Met include Musetta in La Boheme, Bess in Porgy and Bess, and Zerlina in Don Giovanni; featured on the 1983 Metropolitan Opera Centennial Gala Performance.
Amber Cierra Merritt is a first-year Specialist student at the University of Michigan where she studies with Dr. Louise Toppin. During her time at Michigan, Merritt starred as Edmonia in the workshop of the opera Edmonia by William Banfield and as the Sparrow in Nkeiru Okoye’s Bre’r Rabbit and the Tar Baby. Merritt also starred as Frau Herz in Mozart’s Der Schauspieldirektor. Merritt placed first in the Great Lakes Region’s National Student Auditions in the Advanced Category and first in the regional and national level in the Hall Johnson Spirituals category in 2020. This season, Merritt has starred in two PBS specials with the American Pops Orchestra entitled “One Voice: American Roots” and “united in Song: Celebration of American Roots.”
Merritt received her master of music from the University of Michigan and her bachelor of music from the University of Maryland College Park. During her time at the University of Maryland, she was a member of the UMD Chamber Singers, who frequently collaborated with the National Symphony Orchestra and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Merritt was a soloist for Donizetti’s Ave Maria which was performed with University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra. She was also featured as a soloist in the UMD Bach Cantata Series performance of Cantata 23 Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn and the University of Maryland’s 2019 School of Music Commencement Ceremony. Merritt is also an esteemed alumna of Baltimore School for the Arts.
Ikpemesi O (she/her/hers) is a Nigerian-American musician, artist, and performer. She loves exploring the world through vocal music, poetry, and spoken word. A community builder to the core, her art explores the human experience through the lens of finding joy in the little things while critically examining the world around her towards the goal of creating empathy and highlighting our shared human experience. She has a BA in voice performance from Albion College. Currently, she is working as a freelance singer and artist since wrapping up a master of music performance in voice at Bowling Green State University in April. For performance inquiries please reach out to her on Instagram @IkpemesiO.
Jhané Perdue is finishing up her first year as an Artistic Project Coordinator with the Pleiades Project. The Black Brilliance Competition, spearheaded by Perdue, is a project that Perdue is very passionate about. Perdue committed to finding new ways to uplift women and BIPOC artists. During her time with the Pleiades Project, Perdue has worked on multiple short films like the German Romantics (Clara, and Louise) as well as Live projects like A Women’s Suffrage Splendiferous Extravaganza!
Perdue has been a soprano soloist for the Flint Symphony Orchestra (“Elijah,” 2022, Holiday Pops, 2017). She placed first in the 2021 Dr. Marjorie Conrad Art Song Competition and in the 2020 Regional NATS Competition (Great Lakes Region). Ms. Perdue is the recipient of the 2019 Women’s Club of Bowling Green Scholarship. She is also the recipient of the 2017 Congressional Black Caucus Vocal Performative Scholarship. She received her bachelors of music from Bowling Green State University, where she studies under Myra Merritt-Grant.