Dr. James Johnson, Co-Founder, Executive Director
The mission of the Afro American Music Institute (AAMI) is to provide systematic, specialized instrumental training in all styles of the African American music traditions such as Jazz, Blues, Gospel and Negro Spirituals. In addition, the Institute provides a forum both in performing and recording opportunities for otherwise undiscovered talent in the Greater Pittsburgh Community. The Institute conveys the heritage of African Americans through the medium of music so others will continue to appreciate the Black contribution to world culture.
Thirty-one years ago in the basement of an inner-city church at St. James A.M.E. Church, in Pittsburgh, PA, a piece of a dream began unfolding; the dreamer wished to develop a curriculum devoted to the total experience in the Afro-American musical tradition. At the center of this dream was the desire to preserve the cultural tradition and quality of a music that is widely recognized today as an original American art form. A couple of miles away, another piece of this dream was being played out in a classroom at the University of Pittsburgh, where James Johnson was laying the foundation for a comprehensive curriculum that would fall under the umbrella of an inner-city program called The Afro-American Music Institute (AAMI).
The Afro-American Music Institute (AAMI) began in 1982 as a proprietary venture of founders Dr. James Johnson and his wife, Pamela. Classes were held at St. James AME Church’s Sumpter Hall in the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh. Within six years, program growth necessitated a move to the Alma Illery Annex, located at 7227 Tioga Street, Homewood. As the reputation of the Institute grew, residents of varied social and economic backgrounds sought enrollment at AAMI for the opportunity to learn music from an African-American perspective. Again, increased demand for services mandated increased professional teaching and administrative staff and larger accommodations.
On August 15, 2003, AAMI closed the doors at its location at 7227 Tioga Street and moved into its newly purchased building at 7131 Hamilton Avenue in Homewood. The facility provides a more inviting location with larger rooms and a more professional appearance and atmosphere as its student enrollment and general public interest increases.
The current location has successfully completed two phases of its Facility Stability Plan. In 2004, several funding agencies including The Eden Hall Foundation and The Pittsburgh Foundation, helped us renovate a rehearsal and performance hall for the Boy’s Choir, AAMI Ensembles, and our annual recitals. We are currently seeking support to complete Phase Three: Building Today For Tomorrow
Consistent with its mission, the Afro-American Music Institute will continue to provide programs of excellence under the guidance and tutelage of its committed, professional staff and board members. It will continue to seek out those persons, especially youth for enrollment and completion of programs and courses offered at AAMI. Our experience indicates that youth who participate in AAMI programs gain a better sense of self-confidence, self-esteem, creativity and problem solving skills.
The academic piece of this dream was realized via a doctoral dissertation in ethnomusicology entitled “Enculturation in a Formal Setting: A Study of Problems and Prospects in Afro-American Music Education”. Unlike Langston Hughes’ “ A Dream Deferred”, this dream is alive and well as evidenced via a curriculum that provides specialized instrumental and vocal training in all styles of African-American music, (i.e. gospel, Negro spirituals, jazz, etc.).
Current programs at AAMI are divided into four categories:
Summer Youth Intensive Camp
Public Performance Series
Afro American Music Institute
7131 Hamilton Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15208
Monday – Thursday, 4PM until 8PM
Saturdays, 10 – 4 PM