Remembering an influential presence
The Akron Symphony Orchestra lost an influential member of the family when Ann Lane Gates passed away on Feb. 5.
She was a key figure in the creation of Gospel Meets Symphony in 1993, which was originally conceived as a fundraiser for the Symphony’s recording of American Voices, a work featuring original compositions from African-American composers David Baker, William Banfield and Billy Childs.
The genesis for the first concert grew from discussions between Symphony leaders and minority outreach committee members about a growing trend to mix gospel choirs with symphony orchestras. Gates had heard a similar concert in Cleveland and approached Alan Balter, the Symphony’s music director, about bringing the idea to Akron.
Balter, who had conducted similar concerts with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, embraced the idea and Gates was selected to chair the event with the help of Dolores Parker Morgan, Marva Allen-Murrell and Lawrence Butler, among several others.
A team of church choir directors, with Cleo Myricks from the Arlington Church of God in Akron leading the way, began rehearsing for the first Gospel Meets Symphony concert, which took place on Jan. 29, 1994, as more than 125 singers from 37 Akron churches joined the Symphony for a memorable evening at the Akron Civic Theatre.
Gates would chair the event for six years, helping it grow into a community event and an ongoing Akron tradition.
“I never thought Gospel Meets Symphony would have lasted this long or be this successful,” Gates said on the 20th anniversary of the concert. “It wouldn’t have been if not for the passion, drive and dedication of everyone involved from the very beginning, and all of the current and past Gospel Meets Symphony chairs, committee members, choir members, concertgoers and contributors.”
Gates’ influence on the Akron community extended beyond her role with the Symphony.
In 1961 she joined the Akron Public Schools where she taught at Innes Junior High School and Central High School. In 1965 she was called into an administrator role by then superintendent, Martin Essex, where she was responsible for the overall supervision and management of Youth Tutor Corp, Pre-Kindergarten, Neighborhood Youth Corps, Adult Basic Education and other programs. She served as director of Project Trend.
From there Gates joined the Personnel Department where she was responsible for substitute teachers, teacher certification, education assistants, secretaries and auxiliary services; after which she became Director of the Buchtel Urban Demonstration Program.
She was subsequently appointed to the position of Assistant to the Superintendent for Community Relations and Legislative Affairs representing the Akron Public Schools on many boards and organizations for which she was the first female and/or African American. She received many awards at the local, state and national levels for her work.
It was during the mid-1960s when Mark Auburn, a current Greater Akron Music Association Trustee, first crossed paths with Gates.
“In Easter Week 1966, the Campus Christian Fellowship of the University of Akron sent a small troupe of student actors to perform a foot-of-the-cross passion play in the sanctuaries of four churches in Pennsylvania and New York,” Auburn recalled. “We traveled together in a van and depended upon home hospitality to feed and house the four company members and our two chaperones, one of whom was Mrs. Ann Lane Gates.
“She was the first African-American woman to stay overnight in the homes which welcomed our troupe, the first African-American woman to enter my life as a teacher-leader-mentor.
“When I returned to Akron in 1991 after a quarter century away, there was my beloved Mrs. Gates, now not just a chaperone for a college field trip but a senior leader of Akron’s political establishment, speaking for our interests in Ohio’s Statehouse, speaking for a community whose leaders like Howard Fort and Vernon Odom, and allies like Bernard Rosen, had struggled to bring us all together. She was the pathbreaker for the next generation of leaders like The Rev. Ronald Fowler Sr. and Deputy Mayor Dorothy Jackson.
“She hadn’t aged a bit, I thought, as I watched her at the beginning of her retirement years help to create our Gospel Meets Symphony concert. She always loved the ‘salt and pepper’ audiences we attracted to those concerts, though she whispered to me a couple of times that she wished for more ‘pepper with the salt.’ ”
The Symphony will honor Gates at this year’s Gospel Meets Symphony concert on Feb. 25 by dedicating the song Worth, which will be performed by Pastor Richard Cash, to her memory.
The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. at E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall on the campus of The University of Akron.