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Meet The Black Woman Choral Conductor Who Just Made Her Debut At Carnegie Hall

Meet The Black Woman Choral Conductor Who Just Made Her Debut At Carnegie Hall

It was a moment in Blackness!

Maria A. Ellis is a St. Louis based choral conductor who has racked up quite a following on social media. With tens of thousands of followers and subscribers across social media and YouTube, Ellis often posts videos rehearsing for upcoming performances, teaching various music education tips, and sharing choral renditions of popular songs like “Row Your Boat,” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” 

@girlconductor A clip from our soundcheck yesterday! #girlconductor #choirdirector #conductor #lifteveryvoice #kirkfranklin #allstarchorus #fyp #viral ♬ original sound - Maria A. Ellis


According to The St. Louis American, Ellis got her start in classical music when she was only in the sixth grade. Having previously fallen in love with singing from her aunts, The St. Louis Children’s Choir nurtured Ellis’ passion and helped introduce her to an entire world of music. 

“I thought I was really important because I got to read music. Sheet music is important because everything I was used to learning was learned by ear from my gospel background,” Ellis explained. 

That passion would take her back to school, later enrolling in the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ opera program. She needed to learn the language and the program helped her do that. When she finished, she set out on a course to teach other children classical music in a way she felt was most authentic, tapping into gospel, R&B, and hip hop as a way to connect the two worlds. 

Today, Ellis travels all across the country performing and teaching students. She focuses on making education accessible, hoping to help Black youth, especially other young Black girls learn to read notes, where previously they’ve only learned music foundation by ear. 

“I take classical terms and then break them down so people who don’t come from that world can understand them because that’s what I needed when I was in college. I felt so lost because they were saying all these terms and I was like, ‘I don’t know what any of this stuff means,’” said Ellis. 

Today she has numerous accolades under her belt, previously serving as the Conductor in Residence with the Colorado Children’s Chorale, working with the Haywood All-County Choir in North Carolina and receiving the 2023 Arts Innovator Award by the St. Louis Arts and Education Council.

“My goal in life is to make sure everyone has ACCESS to music literacy! Thank you to all who support me,” Ellis captioned a video of the award ceremony. 

 

@girlconductor Grateful to the St. Louis Arts and Education Council for this award! My goal in life is to make sure everyone has ACCESS to music literacy! Thank you to all who support me!!#girlconductor #innovator #music #musiceducation #musiceducatorsoftiktok #blackgirlmagic ♬ TO THE MOON - JNR CHOI & Sam Tompkins

Recently, Ellis had a career-making milestone moment, taking to social media to announce her debut at Carnegie Hall. She shared a video from the moment, walking out as the orchestra rose and the audience applauded. As Ellis took the podium, she announced to the audience that they would be performing a gospel piece. She invited the concert goers to “get into the spirit” of the music by clapping, but only if they could clap on beats 2 & 4, prompting a roaring laughter from the crowd. 

 

 

@girlconductor I’m still pinching myself! Last Sunday I made my conducting debut at @Carnegie Hall! Not many black women have done it- and I’m happy to help pave the way for many more!! #fyp #girlconductor #conductor #orchestra #choir #carnegiehall #newyork #debut #stlouis ♬ original sound - Maria A. Ellis


The video has racked up 10,000 likes on TikTok alone and hundreds have taken to Ellis’ comments to congratulate her on such a historic accomplishment. She now joins an elite group of Black women conductors who have had the honor of performing in the prestigious venue, an accomplishment Ellis says she doesn’t take lightly. 

“I’m still pinching myself…I made my conducting debut at [Carnegie Hall]! Not many Black women have done it - and I’m happy to help pave the way for many more,” said Ellis. 

Congratulations Maria! We’ll be looking out for what’s next!

Cover photo: Meet the Black woman choral conductor who just made her debut at Carnegie Hall/Photo Courtesy of Wiley Price/The St. Louis American