Willis C. Patterson Award

In the spring of 2005 the Friends of the Pioneer Choirs initiated an annual award to celebrate the life of Willis C. Patterson Ann Arbor Pioneer High School graduate:

Willis C. Patterson graduated from Ann Arbor High School in 1949.  In the 1949 Pioneer High School Omega his friends said “Music was Willis’ main interest and he was an active member of the Music Club, A Cappella Choir and Band.  This fellow had a deep, mellow voice.  He will long be remembered as the sergeant of the police in the “Pirates of Penzance”.

Willis was born in Ann Arbor in 1930.  He attended Jones School, now Community High School, from Kindergarten through 9th grade. Willis earned bachelor and masters of music degrees from the University of Michigan, in 1958 and 1959 respectively, after serving in the Air Force.  He earned his doctorate in higher education leadership from Wayne State University in 1993.

Willis joined the faculty of the University of Michigan School of Music in 1968 serving as professor of voice, conductor of the men’s glee club and associate dean for academic affairs.  He taught at Southern University, Louisiana and Virginia State College prior to his appointment at the University of Michigan.

Dr. Patterson concertized extensively in the U.S.  and Europe and has appeared as bass soloist with major American orchestras.  He was a Fulbright Fellow and a winner of the Marian Anderson Award for young singers.  Mr.  Patterson, who appeared as King Balthazar on NBC-TV in its production of Menotti's opera Amal and the Night Visitors, has been seen professionally in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, Beethoven's Fidelio and Puccini's La Boheme to name only a few of his many roles.

Willis has served as president of the National Association of Negro Musicians and as executive secretary of the National Black Music Caucus.  He has served as president of VIDEMUS, a nonprofit arts organization committed to producing concerts, programs, and recordings of the concert music of African American, women and under represented composers.  He is the founder of the “Our Own Thing Chorale” a well loved Ann Arbor choral organization, and provider of free voice lessons for promising Ann Arbor youth for over 30 years.  He has also served as leader of the African American Endowment Fund.

When Willis thinks of mentors he remembers Reverend C.W. Carpenter from the 2nd Baptist Church, Douglas E.H. Williams Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Community Center and world famous opera star Paul Robeson.  These men were instrumental in directing Willis to the path he has followed mentoring thousands of young people himself.

No graduate of Ann Arbor, or Pioneer, High School has done more as a vocalist or supporter of singers.  In tribute to his outstanding example the Friends of the Pioneer Choirs endow the Willis C. Patterson Award; to be given to an outstanding African American underclassman, a member of the Pioneer Choirs, who has demonstrated both superior effort and talent, to be used to further their vocal music skills.  The selected singer will be chosen by the vocal music staff at Pioneer High School and announced at the choir banquet each spring.  The amount of the award will be determined by the officers of the Friends, to be no less than the amount given to the recipient of the Millett and/or Pratt Awards in each year.  An appropriate plaque, describing Willis and his life, has been placed in the choir room at Pioneer listing the names of recipients and the year they were recognized.


Willis C. Patterson Award Recipients

    2010    Taryn Thomas (Class of 2011)
    2009    Olivia Bassett-Kennedy (Class of 2010)
    2008    John Spalding (Class of 2010)
    2007    Hope Parow (Class of 2008)
    2006    Dorothy Yarrington (Class of 2008)
    2005    Everett Fitzhugh (Class of 2006)


Updated on 01/19/11 by Steven Lorenz.