By Associated Press - Sunday, September 13, 2020

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - The 90th birthday of legendary bass singer and University of Michigan alum and professor emeritus Willis Patterson will be celebrated virtually.

Scholars, composers and performers from across the U.S. are expected to attend the Sept. 18-20 African American Music Conference. The event is hosted by the university’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

Patterson was the first African American faculty member to join the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, according to the university.

He was hired in 1968 and taught in the department for more than three decades. He was associate dean for 20 of those years.

Patterson previously held professorships at Southern University in Louisiana and Virginia State College.

University of Michigan voice professor Louise Toppin said Patterson “broke barriers and really saw it in himself to make more room at the table for other people that looked like him.”

Toppin organized the music conference which will include pre-recorded and live conversations featuring prominent African American composers and scholars.

On Sept. 18, the Bentley Historical Library will celebrate the arrival of the Willis Patterson papers as part of the university’s archive.

“The extraordinary breadth of Professor Patterson’s career - as performer, professor, university administrator, scholar of and leader in African American music - make his collection an invaluable addition to the holdings of the Bentley Historical Library,” said Terrence McDonald, the Bentley’s director.

The new collection includes correspondence, research, photos and news clippings that focuses primarily on Patterson’s professional and musical career from 1952 to 1999.

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