Shedding Light on Black Excellence: Vinroy Brown Jr.

By Kaitlyn McCormick

Neuroscience, English teaching and sacred music don’t seem to have all that much in common, but at one point in time they were all considerations for Vinroy Brown Jr.’s career. 

Growing up in the Black church and partaking in school choirs, music was always a part of Brown’s life, even if it took him some time to consider and embrace pursuing his talent professionally. 

“For me, music was the friend that was always there that I never looked at as more than a friend… and [then] you realize, ‘Oh, like you’re the thing I’ve always fallen back on, and I need to make you more than just my friend, more than just my hobby,” Brown explained with a smile.  

Brown graduated from Westminster Choir College (WCC) in 2015, majoring in sacred music and music education, before returning in 2017 as an adjunct faculty member. 

As a student, Brown quickly made positive impressions on WCC faculty by striving for heavy involvement on campus. Margaret Cusack, Brown’s professor-turned-colleague, recalled her stark memory of a young Brown during a guest master class from the famous operatic tenor George Shirley, the first African American man to sing a leading role at the Metropolitan Opera. 

Cusack remembered how impressed she was with the way a then-freshman Brown had conducted himself in the class. It turned out that he was part of the group that had organized Shirley’s arrival on campus in the first place. 

“After that point, I really noticed him. I paid attention when he sang, when he performed, and I noticed that he was given duties in Jubilee Singers and other groups that were leadership opportunities,” said Cusack.

Brown conducts the Jubilee Singers as an undergraduate. 
Photo courtesy of Vinroy Brown Jr.

 Brown said, “Jubilee Singers is one of a few ensembles at a predominantly white institution of this kind of makeup where the emphasis is on music of the Black experience.”

While Cusack was not part of the search committee to find a conductor for Jubilee Singers, she said she was delighted to find that they had asked Brown. 

“I thought, ‘Well, this is the perfect transition,’” Cusack said. 

Brown described Jubilee as an “invaluable” part of his undergraduate. “I hope that students leave Jubilee Singers knowing that they are equipped to go out into the world and do things that will bring us together and not separate us,” he said.  

Conducting this ensemble is not the only way that Brown involves himself in the student sphere on campus. Outside of his duties as an adjunct professor for the sacred music curriculum, he also initiated a new Baccalaureate Honors course this semester, titled music and social justice. 

Brown works on a piece of music in his office. The bracelet he sports is for his fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha, Brown was wearing a crewneck that read, 1906, the year the fraternity was founded. 
Photo courtesy of Kaitlyn McCormick

The course was cowritten with sociology and criminology professor Joanna Kubik, and the inspiration, Brown said, was presented by Loyola Marymount University, from which he was given the charge to create the course and its title and had the freedom to come up with the rest. 

“I know my own experience, and I know the experience of Black sacred music and Black secular music and how those songs are used as a means of protest and to speak of one’s personal experience, but it was really enlightening for me to see how music has been part of the conversation in every major social movement of the last century,” Brown said. 

The course, as Brown synopsized it, encompasses everything from Negro spirituals and early 21st century Black music to R&B, reggae and blues. 

“And of course, you can’t talk about social justice and kind of activism and music and not talk about the Beatles,” Brown said. 

“It’s a beautiful way to kind of fuse all of my different passions and loves together,” he explained, proceeding to list music, social justice and his work in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Brown sported a black crewneck embroidered with a gold “1906” as well as a matching bracelet; both pieces coordinated with the founding of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated.

The fraternity, which Brown will have been involved with for one year in March, is a way for him to find “non esoteric ways to give back” through various service projects and mentorships. 

Associate Dean Jason Vodicka has had the opportunity to work with Brown from a DEI perspective on multiple occasions. 

“I have found him to be a great partner who has a different set of experiences than I have,” Vodicka said. “It’s been good to present with him because, he as a Black man, me as a white man, obviously come at the topic from a very different place.”

The associate dean also stressed the importance of having faculty members like Brown involved so heavily on campus and the benefits that students are able to reap as a result. 

“He is really creating a name for himself, and that’s something that I think is really beneficial to our students…it brings more opportunities to them, but it also assures that they’re working with somebody who is in the process of becoming a major name in the field, and I think that that’s really important,” Vodicka said.

The praise for Brown is not a one-off instance, seemingly shared by anyone who has crossed his path. 

“I think the students really look up to him,” Cusack said. “They recognize what he has and what he brings to the table, and that’s impressive, and that’s important.” 

This article is part of the Shedding Light on Black Excellence, a February series by The Rider News to showcase impactful Black figures at Rider University. 

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