Black History: Hidden In Plain Sight

Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor

   Toledo has an incredible music history, sometimes hidden away, but not yet forgotten.
James C. Marshall, author

What elements shape Toledo’s essence or unique identity?

In the foreword to Tatum’s Town: The Story of Jazz in Toledo, Ohio, James C. Marshall noted the city’s “blue-collar roots and lack of majestic landscapes, devoid of the urban, cosmopolitan sophistication found elsewhere,” but aptly noted, “Yet, [Toledo] still has a stellar cultural landscape.”

Marshall perfectly encapsulates Toledo’s essence – a city that “for her size and weight,” has more than her share of great talent. Yet despite its rich cultural landscape, Toledo has a complex relationship with our artistic talents.

Anthony Pattin, a Toledo-born pianist, carved out a distinguished 32-year career as a professor, soloist and chamber musician in Birmingham, Alabama, before returning to his roots in 2019. His career has been marked by performances with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra, appearances at prestigious venues like Carnegie Hall, and tours across the globe.

Despite his international success, Anthony Pattin’s legacy in Toledo reflects the city’s broader struggle to fully appreciate its homegrown talents.

I caught up with Pattin to discuss his career, the musical heritage of Toledo, and the city’s recognition of its artists.

Anthony Pattin

Perryman: The jazz genre is usually highlighted when discussing Toledo’s great musical heritage. Yet, you are a classical piano icon.

Pattin: My career has focused primarily on classical music, but I’m a versatile musician. I have played a lot of genres other than classical music. I never really got into the jazz scene, but I was able to play for people who wanted jazz. I was able to play in combos and stuff like that. But no, the strength of my background has been in classical music, and it still is, even though I do church music, which is still affiliated with the church.

Perryman: Talk about Toledo’s great artists.

Pattin: Of course, Art Tatum is a much better representative of Toledo, Ohio, than anybody as far as a legend, but then, of course, that story has been told repeatedly, but never enough in Toledo. The few little tributes here in Toledo are disgraceful, especially the little thing out at Huntington Center. It’s not worthy of such a significant figure in jazz.

Art Tatum is the gold standard. It’s a shame that Toledo doesn’t have a real monument to him. The minimalist effort on City Park, I wonder if they’ll ever get that presentable.

Perryman: Do we underappreciate our musicians in Toledo?

Pattin: I felt more appreciated when I didn’t live here anymore because they were always calling me to come back to do something with the symphony or at the university. I did know about Jon Hendricks because of the jazz program out at Toledo University at his direction.

Ike Stubblefield, a legend, made the Hammond organ really a jazz instrument. Of course, Murphy’s Place was a staple of Toledo. Jean Holden is a veteran jazz lounge singer, and her place, Jean’s Place, was once the place to be.

If you’re going to talk about music, you have to also talk about gospel music, and you can’t talk about gospel music except talking about the Byrd family, legendary almost to the same extent as Mattie Moss and the Clarks are in Detroit.

Yet, the city’s music community remains divided by genre preferences, with classical music often attracting a predominantly white audience, underscoring the need for a more integrated appreciation of Toledo’s diverse musical landscape.

Perryman: Talk about your upbringing and education.

Pattin: Born in 1953, I graduated from Scott High School, attended Toledo University, and then the University of Michigan. I moved to Alabama for my studies at the University of Montevallo but completed my doctorate in 1994 at the University of Alabama, thanks to its proximity.

Even though it was a new experience and the culture was different, it ended up being a wonderful, positive shift in my life. A lot of good things happened to me while I was in the South.

Perryman: What’s the earliest memory about your playing?

Pattin: I was playing for the choir at Scott High School under David Carter. I was the accompanist for the symphonic choir, where I was exposed to various music literature. We were doing Handel’s Messiah every year. We’d do The Holy City, the Crucifixion, so I was introduced to great choral music throughout high school. It differs from what they’re doing now in schools; it’s just an extension of what you hear on the radio.

No, we had legitimately good choral literature that improved my sight reading because I had to play parts as well as the accompaniment. So I became an ace crackerjack sight reader from my experience at Scott, which always opens a lot of doors when people may need you to do things on short notice. So, I became a musical savior in many situations just because I had skills.

Perryman: Talk about your performance career while on the university faculty in Alabama.

Pattin: I was also at a prominent Black church in Birmingham, 6th Avenue Baptist Church, under Pastor John Porter, who had marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. Martin Luther King had done Porter’s installation service.

Sixth Avenue had the best of everything you would find at any church – Black or white. They were a sophisticated silk-stocking congregation. You had judges and lawyers and doctors and mayors. All the prominent Black citizens of the city went to 6th Avenue, even if it was nothing more than to visit or around election time to be seen and beg for votes. I stayed at 6th Avenue for about 12 years until the pastor retired and eventually died.

Perryman: What was your position there?

Pattin: I was the Director of Music. I was the organist, pianist, and coordinator; I was like everything at different times.

They were one of the few churches with a brand new pipe organ, having raised money to buy one. One of the world’s finest organists living today, Diane Bish, came and did a recital on the 6th Avenue organ.

Those were good years, but the singing, I tell you, they had five different choirs, and every one of them could be a recording choir; they were very, very high quality. So that was a good situation. I grew a little weary of it, and after a while, I got hooked up with white churches and experienced the value of time and timeliness in the order of services, including worship, weddings, and funerals. It was just a different kind of thing, and I haven’t lost touch with the Black church.

Perryman: When did you begin at 6th Avenue?

Pattin: Sixth Avenue had a concert series, and they would invite many top concert musicians as guest artists. Kathleen Battle had performed there. So, they invited me to be on their concert series. I was playing at a small Baptist church, and someone told me, “Once 6th Avenue gets a whiff of you, we know you’ll be gone, and we know they are going to take you.” And sure enough, they did. That was in 1990, and I stayed there until 2002.

Perryman: What was next after Sixth Avenue Baptist?

Pattin: The white congregation Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church followed, where I stayed as Director of Music for 14 years.

Then, I went to Shades Valley Lutheran as their Director of Music in Birmingham. While there, I decided to move back to Toledo, so I only stayed at Shades Valley for 2 1/2 years. Then I was back in Toledo, where I’m now at First St. John Lutheran as their musician.

Perryman: Please tell our readers about your experiences as a performing concert pianist.

Pattin: I’ve performed three different concert tours in Tokyo, Japan. I’ve gone to Paris, Central America, three times in New York City, twice in Carnegie Hall, and once at Lincoln Center’s Merkin Concert Hall. It’s less popular than Carnegie Hall, but it is a very prestigious hall. I’ve also performed at other venues in between.

Perryman: Please describe some of the other venues.

Pattin: I’ve gone to just about all of the colleges in the South to perform. A lot of them were HBCUs, but not all of them. For instance, I played at “Ole Miss” and Mississippi College for Women. I’ve also gone down to Bethune-Cookman, an HBCU. There’s just a long list of colleges.

Then, not only did I go to the colleges to play, but sometimes I did master classes where it’s like an open public piano lesson. Their students play for you, then you critique them openly and offer suggestions. I did that at Spelman and Fisk. I was just all over the place.

Perryman: How about other experiences?

Pattin: I was on a television program almost every week called The Pianist at Work as an invited guest. I’d do a recital about once a month, and it would go out all over the state on Alabama Public Television.

I played with The Alabama Symphony. I did concerts at all of the universities in Birmingham, every last one, even the private ones. My reputation grew when people heard about me and my playing, which took me a long way. My phone was constantly ringing. If it wasn’t for playing, it was for lecturing. I was a touring artist for the Alabama State Council on the Arts, so I had their endorsement.

All of this while teaching there and all of this combined separated me from everybody else.

Perryman: What specific advice do you offer for young or aspiring musicians?

Pattin: Since American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Mama I Want To Sing, and these other competitions have come along, many young people aspire to instant fame rather than musicianship. Understanding that becoming a musician requires hard work and mastery of music theory, scales, and chords is crucial. I’ve personally seen success in some of my committed and versatile students, including those who excel in competitions and those dedicated to improving their church music skills. My advice is to set clear goals, whether it’s earning a degree or mastering a genre, and diligently work towards achieving them.

Perryman: Talk about your earliest days and those who helped push you towards music.

Pattin: One of the biggest influences was my brother, Leslie, who was 11 years older and the musician of the family. He was studying at the Bach Conservatory. When Leslie left high school, he played musical instruments in the band at Macomber because he was getting his music education degree. He gave me my first music lessons at about age 9 or 10.

I can also remember always being aware of church music. I remember enjoying singing the hymns. I was really starting to read music. The first time they put me on a program, I was about 11 years old. I remember my name was on the program for piano solo, and they skipped over it. I was thanking God that they had skipped over it because I was afraid.

Then, somebody finally said, “We skipped over the piano solo!” And then said, “The young man’s gonna play a piano solo.” And my hymn was ‘Work, For the Night Is Coming’; it was in the key of F, it had that one flat in it that I had to be careful not to forget, but that’s how it all started for me. I remember being scared about it, but still being interested in music and aware of singing and the person on the piano and the organ.

Even in school, at Lincoln Elementary School, we had music. We had music books that we learned songs from that were part of our curriculum, and the school would also let you learn how to play an instrument, and they would provide the instrument for you. I took organ lessons in high school, and then somewhere in the middle of high school, I focused on piano because it was more practical. That’s pretty much where it’s been ever since.

Perryman: Did you have a piano in your home?

Pattin: Initially, it was my brother Leslie’s piano, and became mine when he joined the military.  Even though we did not own a home, my mother always ensured the piano went with us whenever we moved. I don’t care how many stairs you had to climb to get that piano up those stairs; she was going to make sure that I had a piano to play.

Even when the legs had come off, and there was nothing but the body of the piano, they still hiked it up those stairs, and it would just rest across the bed so I could hold it up. It was clear to my family that my interest in piano was profound, so they did everything to support me.

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at