Professor Janise White, pianist, composer, and conductor, was a child prodigy who has enjoyed a successful multi-faceted career in music. She has been referred to as "the Black Liberace," and a "Los Angeles Diva."
Janise was born in San Francisco, California, on September 21, 1954, the sixth of eight children of Benjamin and Odessa Pines White. The family lived in nearby Oakland, California.
Music was an integral part of her childhood, her father and siblings singing in the church choir and she and three siblings playing piano at the Elmhurst SDA Church. Her sister played violin in orchestras as well as provided special music at church. One of three brothers, David, later an M.D., also played piano in local orchestras. An uncle, Charlie Richards, was a professor of music and author of many educational books. A cousin, Essex Scott, sang with the Ink Spots, a nationally famous male quartet, from 1953 to 1960.
At age three, Janise performed a mini-piano recital at home featuring anthems, hymns and spirituals, one Sabbath after returning from a Market Street SDA Church service. Recognizing her proclivity for music, her mother enrolled her at age four in formal music training at Mills College Music Training School under the tutelage of the director, James Beail. In her formative years, Janise accompanied the Market Street Seventh-day Adventist Church Kindergarten Sabbath School class and her Kindergarten class at Brookfield Elementary School.
Janise first recorded "The Lord Is My Light" by Frances Allitsen, at age 9, after winning first prize in the Musicolorama Competition in 1963. From age ten until eighteen, she served as Choir Accompanist at the Elmhurst Seventh-day Adventist Church. She was baptized at age twelve by its pastor, Elder William Penick, and in the following year was appointed to the position of church organist, assisting choir director Ida Coleman.
She attended Golden Gate Academy (GGA) and toured with the schools choir, the Goldenaires, as accompanist from 1970-1972. In 1972, she premiered her first anthem, The Last Days at the Market Street SDA Church. Upon graduating from GGA, she attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on full scholarship, completing a B.Mus. in piano, graduating cum laude in 1976.
She declined a full scholarship from the California Institute of the Arts and an acceptance at The Julliard School of Music, remaining in California where she attended the University of Southern California and earned an M.Mus. in piano, magna cum laude in 1981. She earned a Choral Credential at the California State University, Hayward, in June 1985, magna cum laude, and was named one of two geniuses by the program director. In Fall 1985, she pursued an Artist Diploma at Oberlin Conservatory of Music on full scholarship, studying piano with Frances Walker, sister of Pulitzer Prize Winner George Walker.
White won first place in the National Association of Negro Musicians Piano Competition in 1972 and participated in the UC Berkeley Bach Festival, performing on harpsichord from 1974 to 1976. Hailed for her interpretations of Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, and Liszt, she debuted in 1975 at age 20 on KKHI, classical radio station in San Francisco, performing Beethovens Piano Concerto No. 3, with the Oakland Youth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Denis de Coteau, conductor of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.
In 1981, she debuted in Southern California with the Inglewood Philharmonic Orchestra, performing Beethovens Piano Concerto No. 5. She also appeared as soloist with the Westchester Symphony, Southeast Symphony, Ambassador College Symphony, New Valley Symphony Orchestra and The Afro-American Chamber Music Society Orchestra, under conductors, Denis de Coteau, Frank Fetta, Leroy Hurte, John Dennison, John Schroeder, Kermit Moore and Michael Morgan.
In 1985 White placed as semi-finalist in the International Keyboard Artist Competition at the University of Michigan and accepted an invitation from Dr. Willis Patterson to perform for the National Black Composers Symposium at the University in August of that year. This experience influenced the founding of the Afro-American Chamber Music Society Orchestra (AACMSO) by White in 1988, where she pioneered Black Symphonist Concerts and later started the Saint-Georges Festivals in 2019. AACMSO was broadcast live for KUSC Sundays Live from 1988 to 2015 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The orchestra toured to Washington, D.C., and performed in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Virginia, and New York, appearing with Alex Haley, William Warfield, Judith Still, Garrett Morris, Marla Gibbs, Mable King, Esther Rolle, Rod Perry, John Patton, Little Richard, Nathaniel Ayers (The Soloist), Judith McAllister, Richard Smallwood, and Natalie Cole. It has also played in the Dance Theatre of Harlem, at the John Forsythe Medici Awards, Los Angeles Music Center, Los Angeles Convention Center, and at Africa Meets North America Festivals, and at National Association of Negro Musicians Conventions.
In 2014 White recorded the Harpsichord Sonatas by Saint-Georges and presented a Lecture-Demonstration at the University of the Virgin Islands for Africa Meets North America Conference. AACMSOs Minuets and Optional Dances by Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780) CD, DVD recordings, and orchestrations by Janise White were archived at the British Library in 2015. They were exhibited in the West Africa Exhibit, at the British Library in October 2015 and the recording was subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4 from 2016-2020.
White recorded Pulitzer Prize Winner George Walker's Piano Sonata No. 2 for a widely used CD-ROM textbook, History of African American Music by Dr. Hansonia Caldwell. Her recording Spiritual Meditation has been featured on religious stations and in African American museums in Canada.
White has served as organist, minister of music, choir director and accompanist at several Seventh-day Adventist churches in California, as well as at other churches, including the Providence Baptist Church, San Francisco; Holman United Methodist Church, Los Angeles; and the West Angeles Cathedral, in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles church services were broadcast live over KJLH while special televised programs were taped at the PBS studio in San Francisco.
As a recitalist, she has concertized in Canada, Paris, London, and Virgin Islands. White also performed for former South African First Lady Winnie Mandela and Rosa Parks.
White has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Bronze Halo Award from the Southern California Motion Picture Council; The Los Angeles Diva Award, The Brody Award, ARCO Foundation; and others from the Nathaniel Ayers Foundation, BEEM Foundation, and California Community Foundation.
She has received Commendations from Los Angeles Mayors Tom Bradley, James Hahn, and Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. She and the Afro-American Chamber Music Society Orchestra are mentioned in American Black Women in the Arts and Social Sciences by Dr. Ora Williams; African American Music, A Chronology, by Dr. Hansonia Caldwell; The Bibliography of Black Music of the Greenwood Encyclopedia by Dr. Dominique Rene de Lerma; The International Dictionary of Black Composers by Samuel Floyd, Jr., The International Encyclopedia of Women Composers by Aaron Cohen; Brass Music of Black Composers by Aaron Horne; and The Magic of Music by Leroy Hurte.
White was a tenured Music Professor at West Los Angeles College, Culver City, California, from 1997-2017; Adjunct Professor of Music at Southwest College, Los Angeles, from 1994-2002; Adjunct Music Professor of Piano and Solfege at Merritt College and Laney College, Oakland, in 1983/1984; and Piano Instructor, Golden Gate Academy, Fremont SDA School, and Hayward SDA School 1982-85.
White was a featured guest lecturer and pianist on Black Gospel Music in February 2020 at the Kansas Avenue SDA Church, Riverside, CA. She also continues to conduct the Afro-American Chamber Music Society Orchestra.
COMPOSITIONS: The Last Days, anthem, 1972; Will You Be Ready? contemporary spiritual, 2020
Sources: Online websites; information provided by Janise White and email exchanges with her, December 2020