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Bachelor of Arts in Gospel Music

Professor Roxanne Stevenson, a 27-year faculty member of Chicago State University’s Department of Music, is on a mission that started in the late 1960’s on the dining room floor of her childhood home.

“We didn’t own a piano, so I drew one on a piece of paper. When I touched a key I sang the note out loud. I did this for 18 days. I was nine years old. My dad took me to a store to buy a piano. He told me to pick out the one I wanted, so I chose a 9 ft golden colored grand piano made of glass. He told me that piano belonged to Liberace, which wasn’t true, of course. It was too expensive and bigger than the space in the small apartment. We brought a $600 piano to our apartment on 76th and Morgan then dragged it upstairs.”

CSU has and continues to benefit greatly from Professor Stevenson’s passionate and determined work, both on and off campus. As a band leader, composer and multi-instrumentalist she has overcome many obstacles in her 35 years of teaching and five decades making music.

A graduate of Bethune-Cookman College and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), Professor Stevenson matriculated early at both schools, earning a Master’s degree at 22 years of age with Summa Cum Laude honors. Prof. Stevenson’s rigorous instrumental music training at Chicago Vocational High School (CVS) prepared her for collegiate study, but it failed to ready her for the race and gender biases of the professional world.

“Teaching instrumental music is a male-dominated profession, but no one told me this was not a ‘girl thing’. When I was in high school almost the entire saxophone section were young women. A graduate advisor told me the best job I could hope for was teaching junior high school. Women were supposed to teach choir, not band.”

Professor Stevenson offered to play piano for all of the vocal music majors at Bethune-Cookman as long as she didn’t have to sing. The offer was accepted, and she went on to become the first instrumentalist to tour with the B-CU Concert Chorale.

She has also taught instrumental music at every grade level.

“Finding a Black Female university band director is rare. But here I am.”

This unfortunate disparity drives Professor Stevenson to work harder in mentoring students and inspiring colleagues. She leads workshops across the country encouraging women and girls to choose music as career paths. She serves as the Jazz Coordinator for the HBCU National Band Directors Consortium, and has been nominated for the board of directors of the Jazz Educators Network. Nominated for the 2nd Annual Grammy Music Educator Award, her essay “Normal Not Novel” #There Are Ladies In The Band!” will appear the 2018 Spring issue of the Illinois Music Educator Journal.

Professor Stevenson is the mind and force behind the creation of the new Bachelor of Arts in Gospel Music, which is the only accredited undergraduate program in Worship Music in Chicago, the birthplace of Gospel Music.

“Chicago offers music from every culture on the planet, but Gospel is a mainstay here. This city is nationally recognized for our church bands, choirs and musicians. I’m on a mission to educate every gospel musician possible so they don’t become victims of the industry. Church musicians rarely have health insurance. This program is to help make sure they have options for life and livelihood. This bachelor’s program changes the way musicians will be taught and treated.”

According to Professor Stevenson, the CSU Gospel Music program will provide students more hands-on experiences, including internships and opportunities to teach different aspects of the music in different schools and/or churches every semester. This diversity will better prepare students for their careers.

“Gospel Music majors will learn how to arrange music and assemble and lead an entire production. This includes selecting musicians and songs in multiple styles, assembling a volunteer choir, and scheduling rehearsals. They will also explore the message of the music as it relates to the theological topic of the day. They will research scripture to determine the right songs to play.”

By all accounts, Professor Stevenson is doing well and still on a mission.

“Roxanne has been relentless in terms of her commitment to these new majors, in addition to her many responsibilities with the department,” said Professor Mark Smith, coordinator of the Music Department. “She has doubled-down on all tasks.”

The goal of the Bachelor of Arts in Music with a Concentration in Gospel Music is to teach musicians the history of gospel music and worship, along with a curriculum in traditional music theory, contemporary music theory and arranging, and gospel performance practices. The program launched in Fall 2017.

The Music Department launched a second program this past fall, the Bachelor of Arts in Music with a Concentration in Commercial Music and Technology. This program provides students with a broad liberal arts experience along with a curriculum grounded in traditional music theory, contemporary music theory, songwriting and arranging, and commercial music performance practices.