One of the Triangle’s most visible and accessible jazz musicians has been selected to direct a program that places artists in the public school system, and throughout the communities.

Al Strong. Credit: Alex Boerner

On Monday, Al Strong, trumpet player, composer, recording artist, and educator, will begin his tenure as director of the Durham Arts Council’s Community Artists in the Public Schools (CAPS) program, and Community Arts Partnerships, arts council director Sherry Devries, announced in a press release.

Strong told the INDY this week that he’s anxious to get to work and learn about the inner workings of the job and “how I can best contribute to what’s already in place, and gather resources to contribute to the Durham Arts Council, as a whole.”

Strong says he’s looking forward to booking and scheduling workshops and residencies on behalf of the CAPS program’s teaching artists.

“I’m pretty familiar with that on a day-to-day basis as an artist and a teacher,” he says.

Strong has recently performed on two Grammy-nominated projects that were both in the children’s category. He played the flugelhorn on Rissi Palmer’s Little Black Girl, Little Black Boy, and arranged four tracks on Pierce Freelon’s Black to the Future album.

Last year during Black History Month, Strong released a widely acclaimed arrangement and accompanying music video of James Weldon Johnson’s Lift Every Voice And Sing, which was promoted by the NAACP in the early 1900s as the Black national anthem.

The arrangement caught the attention of officials with Virgin Music and Lightyears Entertainment. Six months later, in August Strong signed a two-year distribution agreement with the company.

Last month, he released  Love Stronger, a new work that’s garnering national and international attention.

“There’s going to be a write-up in an Italian publication in the next couple of weeks,” says Strong, who notes that the album is also doing well in Japan and South Africa. 

Growing national and international acclaim notwithstanding, Strong has been hard at work promoting arts in the community where he lives. He co-founded Durham’s the Art of Cool Project, in 2013, which became the Art of Cool Music Festival one year later. 

Strong also chaired the music department and led a music team at Sallie B. Howard School for the Arts and Sciences in Wilson, where he “designed and implemented a new music curriculum to suit the needs of the newly created high school performing arts division of that school,” according to the release. 

It’s an auspicious time to lead the CAPs program, which next year is set to celebrate its 50th anniversary of “bringing arts integration programs into school classrooms, summer programs and community sites to enhance learning” according to the press release. Strong says he discovered that the CAPS program was set to commemorate its 50th anniversary towards the end of interviewing for the director’s position.

“It’s a huge milestone,” he says. “I’m hoping we can put some things in place so that we can work toward some type of grand celebration.”

Strong in addition to being an enthusiastic advocate for the arts in Durham, will bring a wealth of educational experience as CAPS director. He has been a teaching artist with the CAPS program for the past 6 years and has served for more than a decade as adjunct faculty at North Carolina Central University and other surrounding universities. 

Strong says the arts generate an excitement among young people that reminds him of his own childhood in Washington, D.C., where “the arts were easily accessible and all over the place.”

“As a kid, I did theater, art, dance, and of course the music,” he adds. “Children were able to make an informed decision about which arts discipline spoke to them. I’m looking forward to bridging that gap for students in Durham, and making the arts less intimidating.” 

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