Mrs. Azira G. Hill, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) Board Life Director, initiated efforts for a more inclusive Atlanta Symphony Orchestra beginning as early as 1989. Mrs. Hill, who regularly attended Atlanta Symphony Orchestra concerts, believed diversity on the concert stage would result in diversity in the audience as well.
Recognition of the need to increase the number of classically-trained African American musicians in classical music led to the creation of the Black Talent Development Program. The program was created by the Atlanta Symphony Associates’ (ASA) Action Committee (AC) for Audience Development in the Black Community, under the leadership of ASA President Marcy McTier and Action Committee Co-Chairs Azira G. Hill and Mary Gramling. The members of the AC included notable figures from the Atlanta business, education, and arts communities who were unified in their belief it was imperative to make the ASO and its programs more representative of the diverse metro Atlanta community. The program was developed over a four year period of time through extensive planning meetings that sought input from educators and musicians. Funding to launch the program came from significant fundraising efforts from the AC members and support from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
With sufficient funding in place, the induction of the inaugural class of the Black Talent Development Program took place on September 13, 1993, at the Woodruff Arts Center. Throughout the years, the Program has continued to evolve and expand, including the creation of the Azira G. Hill Scholarship Fund, which was established in November 1999 to provide financial assistance to allow students to attend prestigious national summer music programs.
Another major change occurred later when the ASO opened admission to African American students from all counties in the Greater Metro Atlanta area. In 2003 the program was expanded further to include Latino students — as they were also underrepresented in professional orchestras — and the program adopted its current name: the Talent Development Program. Funding and community support for the Program also increased through the years, including significant financial assistance from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and The Goizueta Foundation, among others.
Currently, the Talent Development Program maintains a class size of 25 African American and Latino students from several Greater Metropolitan Atlanta public and private schools, as well as home school families. Over the years, more than 100 students have benefitted from the Orchestra’s long-term commitment to increasing diversity on the American orchestral stage.