The famed Czech composer Antonín Dvořák believed that the African American tradition was central to all American compositions, calling it “all that is needed for a great and noble school of music.” On Feb. 3, Stephen Tucker, UCI associate professor of music and conductor of the UCI Symphony Orchestra, will launch Black History Month with a concert showcasing some of America’s most celebrated African American composers, highlighting their influence on the world of concert hall music.

The 7 p.m. event will conclude the three-day College Orchestra Directors Association Conference, hosted by UCI, which is expected to draw nearly 100 college conductors from around the world.

To be held at Orange County’s Soka University, the concert will feature two world premieres: a composition by Carolyn Yarnell called “It’s Still Big, Just Like You Remember!” and an aria by Richard Thompson, “We Wear the Mask,” sung by UCI student Marlaina Owens. The UCI Symphony Orchestra will also play compositions by Adolphus Hailstork, four-time Grammy winner Billy Childs, George Walker and Duke Ellington.

Tucker, who wrote his dissertation on Ellington and considers several of these composers “the center of [his]academic life,” is eager to bring their work to wider audiences.

“I’ve never had the opportunity to do a black history concert before, so the chance to play music by African American composers for a captive audience of peers is wonderful,” Tucker says. “I want everyone to leave the concert with this arsenal of pieces in their minds, so they can do their own research and find out who else is out there – because there are so many African American composers in jazz and classical, and they influence everything.”

Although Tucker was raised in Jamaica, he noticed when he came to America as a young man that the contributions of African American musicians were “everywhere” and “so powerful,” although sometimes overlooked in the classical genre.

“These influences are not just felt in pop music; there are benefits to be gained from observing, embracing and adopting the African American tradition in concert hall music,” he says. “I hope this showcase generates a little more respect for the contributions of these composers to their field and possibly inspires more African American musicians to pursue their craft.”