Merit School of Music

Alumni Spotlight: Dante’ Pope

Meet Alumnus Dante’ Pope

Year(s) Attended Merit: 1995 to 2004

Program(s): Alice S. Pfaelzer Tuition-free Conservatory

Instrument(s): Percussion, Voice

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Education: Fisk University, B.S. Political Science

Current profession: Professional multi-genre drummer and vocalist and former policy manager for arts in education, energy, and homeland security through the Office of Congressman Danny K. Davis.

Favorite Merit Memories: Masterclasses with Yo-Yo Ma, Evelyn Glennie, and Robin Eubanks.  Ann Monaco, former Merit Artistic Director, made a huge impact on me as well.

Tell us a little bit about your professional background? And what are you up to these days? I enjoy blending gospel roots with a soulful swing and showcasing that all around the world. For several years now, I’ve been fortunate to support Dom Flemons, founder and former member of the Grammy Award-winning, Carolina Chocolate Drops. As a trio, they performed with the likes of Grammy Award-winning, Old Crow Medicine Show, and performed for the grand opening of the newly opened Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. Most recently, I’ve toured with Kenny Wesley and the Soulful Nerd Band to Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and Madagascar through the State Department’s, American Music Abroad Program. While abroad, we performed and taught master classes on funk, gospel, and music from the African diaspora. Currently, I’m playing for Grammy-nominated, soul sensation Raheem Devaughn and Wes Felton, better known as The CrossRhodes Project.

What are some of your favorite memories from your time at Merit? And how did your time at Merit help you achieve your life goals? Merit is where my skills and understanding of percussion were groomed. I’ll always remember those master classes with Yo-Yo Ma, Evelyn Glennie, and Robin Eubanks. Ann Monaco made a huge impact on me as well. Under her leadership, I learned how to focus and concentrate as Merit was and is a very competitive place to be for young musicians. These lessons helped me learn discipline which is key to making it as a musician and a professional in general. The diversity of the students, teachers, and culture at Merit prepared me for the real world. And the acts of learning kindness and empathy I experienced at Merit have made me a better person for sure. Overall, Merit helped me explore my passions and now I’m partnering that passion with purpose, avidly working to perfect my ability to help others — by partnering my art with my heart for advocacy.

What advice would you give to current Merit students about how to reach for their dreams and succeed? The most important advice I could give a current musician at Merit is to stay open and flexible. I never thought in a million years, I would go from music to politics and work in the halls of Congress during one of the most historic times of our nation’s history. I’ve learned that the ear, patience, and partnership that goes into playing in an ensemble, participating in a dance company, writing an original composition or even auditioning, are all transferable. These structures serve as a microcosm of life. Do your best at all things, at all times, and you cannot lose. Lastly, NEVER LOSE FAITH IN YOURSELF. Be sure to write down your desires, passions, and goals so you can see and measure your success. You. Are. Great. Shine!


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