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Denver man will co-conduct the first all-Black symphony orchestra at Hollywood Bowl

Derrick Hodge has put together music for some of the biggest stages, including the Super Bowl and the Grammys.

DENVER — This Juneteenth, for the first time ever, the iconic Hollywood Bowl will have an all-Black symphony orchestra performing for the holiday. The co-conductor of the group lives in Denver. 

Derrick Hodge is used to big performances. He's arranged music for some of the biggest stages, including the Grammys and the Super Bowl. 

His next show on Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl will feel different. 

"This year being the first time an African American orchestra will ever have performed on this stage – I try to approach it by thinking about the history," he said. 

Juneteenth commemorates June 19th, 1865, when slaves in Texas finally learned they were free more than two years after President Lincoln declared the end of slavery.

Hodge is creating his own music for the show. He's also taking songs from other musicians and adding some flair so an orchestra can play them.

It usually takes him a day or two to arrange music, but for this special performance, he's giving himself more time. Hodge said he's been playing songs in his car for a week before he writes a single note. 

"I sit back, I learn the musicians that are playing, and I try to write within the spirit of all of them," he said. "I will do research on what records some of them have worked on, and I will think about that spirit."

Curating music is like storytelling for Hodge.

"Whatever way we want to describe what is our culture, what is gospel, what is hip hop, what is rock to us," he said. "Let that reflect in the music."

On Sunday, the event will include performances by some big names including Earth, Wind & Fire and The Roots.

Monique Brooks Roberts will be one of the professional violinists in the symphony orchestra. She also lives in Denver, and calls Hodge a close friend.

"We are not just playing the same symphonies, as great as they are," she said. "We are not playing the same symphonies that have been played for hundreds of years. We are playing our music. This thing is for us, by us."

Roberts said performing at this Juneteenth celebration means everything to her. 

"As a Black woman violinist from Louisville, Kentucky, growing up I didn't see myself represented in the symphony orchestra," Roberts said. "This is for all the little Black boys and girls across the country who will see themselves on that stage that night."

They hope to inspire future Black musicians, and honor the ones who came before them. 

"It is really about ownership of our sound, our legacy," Hodge said.

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