Dreadlocked classical pianist overcame discrimination to launch international career

Classical pianist Awadagin Pratt‚ who will perform at Kennesaw State University on Dec. 3…

Georgia (Nov 21, 2005) — Dreadlocked classical pianist overcame discrimination to launch international career

Cheryl Anderson Brown


Contact: Cheryl Anderson Brown at 678−438−7601‚ or cbrown@kennesaw.edu

Classical pianist Awadagin Pratt‚ who will perform at Kennesaw State University on Dec. 3‚ has had to overcome many barriers to achieve his status as one of the world’s top musicians. While he is certainly not the first African American to find success in the somewhat rarefied world of classical piano‚ he has presented unique challenges to the establishment.

First‚ there’s his appearance. With long dreadlocks and a full beard‚ he looks like someone most people would expect to find behind a set of steel drums instead of at the keyboard of a concert piano. Inspired in part by tennis star Yannick Noah‚ Pratt says he just thinks the dreadlocks look good on him. And‚ he never wears a tuxedo on stage in order to make classical music feel more approachable for young people.

Second‚ and more importantly‚ there’s his musicianship. He has been earning rave reviews since winning the prestigious Naumburg International Piano Competition in 1992 and an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1994. Since then‚ he’s released several CDs on the Angel/EMI label‚ including an all−Bach recording in 2002.

However‚ Pratt never forgets his roots. His father hails from Sierra Leone and his mother from Texas. Together‚ the Pratts raised their children with the belief that African American children have to be even more prepared than others; that “to be considered as good as others they have to do better.” Awadagin Pratt and his sister‚ Menah‚ spent at least two hours a day in tennis drills‚ one hour a day practicing violin and another hour practicing piano. Forced to choose between a tennis scholarship and a violin scholarship at different colleges‚ young Pratt chose music and eventually landed a spot at Peabody Conservatory of Music in Boston where he earned undergraduate certificates on both of his instruments and a graduate degree in conducting.

Throughout his education and career‚ however‚ Pratt has faced overt racial discrimination‚ including an incident in Boston when he was arrested for disorderly conduct. Late for class‚ he had been running down the street. Although Peabody guards vouched for him‚ the Boston Police held him overnight. Officials at Peabody had to go through the state attorney’s office to have him released. Even today‚ Pratt says he is still subjected to more than his fair share of random searches at airports and railroad stations.

Pratt doesn’t consider himself a pioneer in the world of classical music‚ but he does hope he is a model for young black musicians. “My success‚ if you want to call it that‚ has proved (these musicians) can go through the ‘system’ without doing everything by the book and‚ despite that‚ still reach a certain plateau.”

Pratt’s performance at Kennesaw State University is the second event in the KSU College of the Arts’ 2005−2006 Premiere Series. The concert takes place at 8 p.m. Saturday‚ December 3 in Howard Logan Stillwell Theater. His program will include works by Beethoven‚ Bach‚ Franck‚ Chopin‚ Rachmaninov and Scriabin. For ticket information‚ call the KSU Box Office at 770−423−6650.


Kennesaw State University is a comprehensive‚ residential institution with a growing student population exceeding 18‚000 from 129 countries. The third largest state university out of 35 institutions in the University System of Georgia‚ KSU offers more than 55 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

The KSU College of the Arts is one of only four Georgia institutions to have achieved full national accreditation for all of its arts programs.


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu