Willis C. Patterson
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:
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
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
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
of recipients and the year they were recognized.
Patterson Award Recipients
2010 Taryn Thomas (Class of 2011)
2009 Olivia Bassett-Kennedy (Class
2008 John Spalding (Class of 2010)
2007 Hope Parow (Class of 2008)
2006 Dorothy Yarrington (Class of
2005 Everett Fitzhugh (Class of
Updated on 01/19/11 by Steven Lorenz.