A Beautiful Tribute to Beethoven and A Rebuke of “Cancel Culture”
In celebration of his own 88th birthday, and of Beethoven’s 250th birthday, the leader of the Nation of Islam, Minister Louis Farrakhan, released on May 11 the video recording of his performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major, which he had done in 2002, but which, for various reasons, could not be released earlier. (https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=l-iE9uNKwU0).
While there may have been some technical shortcomings, the musical quality and the truthful, non-pretentious intent of the message, as concertmistress Ayke Agus pointed out, transcended all of them. The performance shocked many who never knew Louis Farrakhan as an accomplished musician, only as a controversial and most often misunderstood religious leader.
The video was introduced by Farrakhan’s grandson, Leonard Farrakhan Muhammad Jr., followed by Professor Cornel West, a powerful critic within the Afro-American community of the “cancel culture” movement and defender of the classics, who spoke about the power of Beethoven’s music to unite people. From the various contributions, the story emerged that
when Louis was five years old, his mother insisted that he master the violin, for which he developed a passion. A turning point then came in his musical studies at the age of nine, when he attended a live Boston Symphony Orchestra performance, in which violinist Jascha Heifetz performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major, in a way which profoundly moved the young boy. He clearly had enormous talent as a child, but at the time the nation, as Minister Farrakhan recognized, was not ready for a black Classical violinist, and he put his instrument away for 42 years.
He attributes his return to the violin as an adult to Sylvia Olden Lee, a master musician, pianist, and music coach to Metropolitan Opera singers, who was a dear friend of Lyndon and Helga Zepp-LaRouche and also worked closely with the Schiller Institute. His teacher then became Elaine Skorodin Fohrman, herself a student of Heifetz, who assisted him in preparing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, which he later performed in concert in 1993.
In Farrakhan’s post-performance comments in 2002, which are included in the video, he introduced two young Black violinists who were part of the orchestra. He told the audience that it were necessary to bring such classically trained Black musicians to the front of American stages in order to reach out to the Black community to become more engaged in classical culture. His approach is thus the opposite of the woke campaign to eliminate so-called “dead white males” from education altogether.
Minister Farrakhan addresses racism as the crime it is, while showing that the means to defeat it, is to foster in every person, beyond whatever differences there may be, his or her truly human identity and inherent creative powers, as expressed in classical music.