Archives and Special Collections
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Archives and Special Collections Finding Aids

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Collection Overview
Title:John Ross papers
Date:1963–2006
Location Code: 55/2-3, FF5/D4
Reference Code:M70
Extent:6.45 cubic ft. (7 boxes)
Scope and Content Abstract:The John Ross papers document his work as music director of Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts and National Center of Afro–American Artists, and his professional activities outside of them. The majority of the collection concerns musical arrangements and performances of either Ross or the National Center of Afro–American Artists. These include sheet music, scripts, advertisements, programs, and cast lists. The Sheet Music Arrangements consist of John Ross's personal and professional arrangements. Documentation of the annual Black Nativity figures prominently in the collection as does his arrangements of popular hymns and gospels. The collection also contains administrative, programmatic, audiovisual, and student records of Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts and National Center of Afro–American Artists.
Historical Abstract:John Andrew Ross was an accomplished African–American composer, organist, choral conductor, and jazz musician. Born in Boston on December 15, 1940, Ross became the music director at the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in 1970. Working with the school and its parent organization, the National Center of Afro–American Artists, he lead two widely recognized music ensembles, the Voices of Black Persuasion and the Contra–Band. Starting in 1970, Ross became the musical director of the highly acclaimed Langston Hughes gospel play, Black Nativity, a position he held until his death in 2006.
Language and Scripts: The materials are in English.
Arrangement:Arranged in alphabetical sequence.
Subjects and Contributors:
  • Lewis, Elma
  • Ross, John Andrew

  • Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts
  • Museum of the National Center of Afro–American Artists
  • National Center of Afro–American Artists

  • African American art –– Massachusetts –– Boston
  • African American artists –– Massachusetts –– Boston
  • African American music –– Massachusetts –– Boston
  • African American theater –– Massachusetts –– Boston
  • African Americans –– Education –– Massachusetts –– Boston

Restrictions:The collection is unrestricted.
Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the University Archivist.
Related Materials:

Elma Ina Lewis papers (M38)
Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts (M43)
Museum of the National Center of Afro–American Artists (M44)
National Center of Afro–American Artists (M42)

Processor: Finding aid prepared by Stein Helmrich, February 2002. Finding aid revised by Cheryl Ostrowski, June 2012.

Scope and Content Note

The John Ross papers document his work as music director of Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts (ELSFA) and National Center of Afro–American Artists (NCAAA), and his professional activities outside of them. The majority of the collection concerns musical arrangements by John Ross and performances of either Ross or the NCAAA. These include sheet music, scripts, advertisements, programs, and cast lists. The Sheet Music Arrangements consist of John Ross's personal and professional arrangements. Documentation of NCAAA's annual Black Nativity event figures prominently in the collection as does his arrangements of popular hymns and gospels.The collection also contains administrative, programmatic, audiovisual, and student records of the ELSFA and NCAAA. Included are budgets, proposals, applications, schedules, student lists, organizational information, and correspondence. Records documenting the financial operations of the ELSFA can be found in the NCAAA Financial folders. Other records include information about the Museum of the National Center of Afro–American Artists, Elma Lewis (founder of the ELSFA and the NCAAA), the National Black Music Colloquium and Competition, and the annual festivals of African Diaspora.

The audio material includes recorded performances of Black Nativity: a CD Master DAT tape from 1995, a mini–disc from December 8, 1996, and a commercially produced cassette tape recording from 1995. In addition, Ross's 1997 compilation of gospel recordings, "Comin up Shoutin," is included on CD along with two reel–to–reel tapes of Randy Weston performing with the Boston Pops in 1981. During this performance, Weston sang "Three African Queens: Blues for Elma Lewis." There is one cassette tape containing personal recordings of "Spiritual tradition in the U.S." and "The Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival," both recorded in 1997. The collection also includes a small number of photographs of John Ross and various performances.

Records relating to his work outside of ELSFA and NCAAA include information about his book Climbing Jacob's Ladder, his involvement with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.), his involvement in the Unitarian Universalist Musician's Network, his work as musical director and organist for First Parish Church, the annual festival of African Diaspora, and his notes and correspondence concerning the many musical performances he was involved with. Of particular interest are the multiple musical arrangements by Ross of the Hogwarts school song taken from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the first book in the Harry Potter series. The collection also contains a series of notebooks kept by Mr. Ross noting his day–to–day activities and appointments.

Historical Note

John Andrew Ross was an accomplished African–American composer, organist, choral conductor, and jazz musician. Ross was born in Boston on December 15, 1940. In 1957, he entered Boston University where he concentrated in church music. He received degrees from the College of Liberal Arts in 1960 and the School of Fine and Applied Arts in 1964.In 1970, Ross became the music director at the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts, which closed in 1990, and its parent organization, the National Center of Afro–American Artists. Working with these organizations, he lead two widely recognized music ensembles, the Voices of Black Persuasion and the Contra–Band. Starting in 1970, Ross became the musical director of the highly acclaimed Langston Hughes gospel play "Black Nativity", a position he held until his death in 2006.

Outside of this work, Ross was a member of the American Guild of Organists. On November 12, 1995 he was ordained as the Minister of Music at the First Parish Church in Brookline, Massachusetts, where he had begun serving as music director nine years before. Ross's work can be heard on his CD, "Comin' up Shouting: Gospel Songs and Spirituals Newly Arranged." Co–producing with folklore author John Langstaff, Ross has written musical arrangements for two books, Climbing Jacob's Ladder: Heroes of the Bible in African–American Spirituals and What a Morning: The Christmas Story in Black Spirituals, the latter of which won the Coretta Scott King Book Award. He has also received multiple regional Emmy Award nominations. In 1981, he won a regional Emmy with Billy Wilson for "Blues and Gone," a part of the series "Say Brother" produced by Boston's public broadcasting station WGBH. His awards include the1990 Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Musical Achievement Award from the City of Boston, the 2000 New England Conservatory Anna Bobbitt Gardener Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2005 Music and Theater Award from the Tri–Ad Veterans League, and the 2006 Friends of the Urban League Lifetime Achievement Award.

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BoxTitleDate
1Black Nativity Audio Materials: Contracts and Track Listn.d., 1995
Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts
1, 2General (5 folders)n.d., 1975–1979, 1991–1999
1Applications (3 folders)1982–1985
1Bicentennial Marching Band (2 folders)n.d.
2Correspondence (2 folders)1971–1989
1Music Program Summaries1969–1976
1Registration Forms1981–1984
2Reports 1978–1979
2Sample Student Information Packet1980
1Schedules1977, 1984
1, 2 Student Lists (2 folders)n.d.,1976–1984
1Lewis, Elma1985–1998
1“Look What A Wonder Jesus Has Done”n.d.
1, 2Museum of the National Center for Afro–American Artists (2 folders)1975–1998, 2004
1National Black Music Colloquium and Competition1980
National Center of Afro–American Artists
1, 2Board of Directors (6 folders)n.d., 1969–1978, 1998–2000
1, 2Budget Reports and Proposals (2 folders)1978–1983
1, 2Correspondence (3 folders)n.d., 1976–1985, 1992
1, 2Financial (5 folders)1976–2000
1, 2Fundraising (2 folders)n.d., 1977–1986
2Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities Grant: New Works Pilot Program: Randy Weston (4 folders)1981
1New Building Proposal1999
2New World Festivals of the African Diaspora 1978–1982
1, 2Organizational Structure (2 folders)n.d., 1978–1980
Performances
237th Annual Follies Show1994
1Battle of the Saxes1994–1995
1, 2Black Nativity (17 folders)1961–1999
1, 2Boston Pops (2 folders)1980–1984, 1991
1Bostaph, Noran.d., 1981–1987
1, 2Celebrate (2 folders)n.d., 1979
1Columbus Day Weekend, Landover, Marylandn.d.
1First Night1977–1987
1Generaln.d., 1975–1993
1Ladies, Please!1985
1Martin Luther King, Jr. Day1980
1Max Roach on Drums1989
1Milestone's in Black Dance1993
1Music in the Air1981
1Next Time You See Me II1984
1Outside Groupsn.d., 1983–1986
1Past Indicative1986
1Photographsn.d., 1980
1Tribute to Senator Edward Brooke1977
1Personnel Policy1979
1Staff Meetingsn.d.
2U.S.–China Peoples Friendship Association (2 folders)n.d., 1979–1980
2Voices of Black Persuasion (2 folders)1976–1991
2, 3Notebooks (5 folders)n.d.
3Appointment Calendars (7 folders)1981–2004
1, 3Other Groups: Performances (2 folders)n.d., 1981–1987
3Performance Programs (7 folders)1964–2000
Personal
3Black Music Caucus 1971–1974
1Climbing Jacob's Ladder1991–1992
1Church Service Bulletins1975–1995
1, 3Correspondence (3 folders)n.d., 1975–2000
1Diasporan.d., 1976–1979
3, 4First Parish in Brookline (6 folders)n.d., 1985–2006
1, 4National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.) (3 folders)1981–1983
1, 4Notes (3 folders)n.d., 1980–1986, 2004–2006
1, 4Performances (non– National Center of Afro–American Artists) (12 folders)n.d., 1963–1998
1, 4Resume and Obituary (2 folders)n.d., 2006
1Sheet Music Arrangementsn.d.
1Unitarian Universalist Musician's Network1995–1998
1“The Web Spinners,” Mary C. MacNeiln.d.
4Photographsn.d.
4Resumes and Demo Tapes (Other Artists) (7 folders)n.d., 1972–2002
4, 5, 6, 7Sheet Music Arrangements (169 folders)n.d., 1986–1999
6Works By Other Artists (16 folders)n.d., 1973–1988, 2001–2002
Audiovisual and Memorabilia
7Buttonsn.d., 1971
FF5/D4Black Nativity Posters (3 posters)n.d., 1997
7Black Nativity (3 audio cassettes) 1995
1Black Nativity (CD Master DAT Tape)1995
1Black Nativity (Mini–disc) 1996
7Comin' Up Shouting' (3 audio CDs) 1997
7Kurt Elling and Duke Ellington (audiocassette)n.d.
7The Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival / Spiritual tradition in the U.S. (audio cassette) 1997
1Randy Weston solo at the Boston Pops ( 2, ¼" audio reels)1981