Francis Johnson Fellowships

The Library Company of Philadelphia’s Innovation Fellowship Program launched in 2021 with two Francis Johnson Fellowships.

Francis Johnson was the preeminent band leader in Philadelphia and one of the most popular black composers prior to the American Civil War. Among his 200 original compositions, he wrote patriotic marches, European ballads, cotillions, quicksteps, and Ethiopian minstrel songs, which he performed for General Lafayette during his visit to Philadelphia in 1824 and Queen Victoria during his band’s European tour of 1837. The Library Company holds a wealth of Johnson printed materials, including sheet music and handbills. Most notably, the Library Company of Philadelphia holds a manuscript book that Johnson gifted to his patron Phoebe Rush, which includes 80 compositions, some of which have never before been published.

Manuscript by Phoebe Rush

The recipients of the Francis Johnson Fellowships are Brent White and Uchenna Ngwe.

White and Ngwe will draw upon one another’s expertise and life experiences as they excavate Johnson’s identity as a Black performer in white-dominated fields, situate his contributions in local and transatlantic contexts, and enliven our historical collections through artistic reinterpretation and educational application.

Uchenna Ngwe is a London-based oboist and Ph.D. candidate at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Her academic explorations into creative practice investigate the lives and work of historical Black classical musicians in Britain from the perspective of a performer-curator-activist. She is founder of plainsightSOUND – an online research project uncovering and promoting the work of historical Black classical musicians. In addition to being a busy freelance musician and educator, Uchenna has been a contributor and presenter on BBC Radio 3 and is artistic director of Decus Ensemble – a flexible, mixed-instrumental group dedicated to performing lesser-known and underexplored works for classical chamber ensemble. Photograph by Richard Duebel.

Uchenna Ngwe, a recipient of the 2021 Francis Johnson Fellowship

Native Philadelphian and jazz enthusiast Brent White is a musician, educator, and arts administrator. As a freelance trombonist, Brent has toured internationally with the likes of John Legend and the Sun Ra Arkestra yet possesses the local field experience and relationships with many of Philadelphia’s non-profits such as the Clef Club and the Kimmel Center. He holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Widener University and a master’s degree in Jazz Studies from the University of the Arts.  Currently, Brent directs the Drexel University Jazz Orchestra and teaches coursework in History of Jazz and Black American Music.

Brent White, a recipient of the 2021 Francis Johnson Fellowship

The Innovation Fellowship Program is made possible by the generosity of our Founding Sponsor Randall M. Miller and Sustaining Sponsors Louise M. and Peter J. Kelly, John C. and Christine K. Van Horne, and a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. To make a contribution to support future Innovation Fellowships, please contact Raechel Hammer, Chief Development Officer, at rhammer@librarycompany.org.