Charlotte’s Kwamé Ryan Makes History By Becoming First Black Conductor of Symphony

Breaking new ground in its near-century history, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra has just appointed Kwamé Ryan, its first non-white director. The 53-year-old, born in Canada and raised in Trinidad, was selected by the Charlotte Symphony in a unanimous decision this week.

“As a dynamic leader who understands the full potential of the relationship between an orchestra and its community,” said Charlotte Symphony President David Fisk in a press release. “Kwamé will undoubtedly deepen the Charlotte Symphony’s service to Charlotte and the region, and, with his passion for music education, bring extraordinary, powerful music-making to a wider audience of all ages.”

Ryan’s hiring is notable in an industry where, as a League of American Orchestras study highlights, Black individuals seldom reach the top position of music director.

A Cambridge University Musicology graduate who trained under conductor Peter Eötvös, Ryan has an extensive background conducting orchestras in the U.S., U.K., and Germany. His recent work includes conducting the world premiere of Jake Heggie’s “Intelligence” at the Houston Grand Opera.

Chosen unanimously by the Charlotte Symphony’s Music Director Search Committee, Ryan will start his four-year contract in the 2024-25 season, succeeding Christopher Warren-Green.

The Charlotte Symphony, the oldest symphony orchestra in the Carolinas, is composed of 65 full-time professional musicians.