Singer, composer and teacher Darryl Jordan can match classical and academic chops with anyone. A baritone/tenor with a big and joyous presence, Jordan, who is receiving his Ed.D. in Music & Music Education, has performed as a chorus member and soloist with famed soprano Kathleen Battle at the Metropolitan Opera House. Teachers College community members will recall his stirring rendition of Handel’s Ombra Mai Fu in Riverside Church at the 2018 inauguration of TC President Thomas Bailey. He’s also a 2020 Music Educators Association of New York City honoree.

But when it comes to Jordan’s great love, gospel music — a tradition that grew out of spirituals composed and sung by enslaved human beings who were denied the right to formal worship, and which was passed down through generations without musical notation — he has a bone to pick with the academy.

Watch a clip of Darryl Jordan singing “Song for You,” by Donny Hathaway

“No one learned gospel in a production studio or in a private lesson,” says Jordan, who proclaims “God gives me songs, I sing them, and then inspire that song in others” on the website for his independent production company, FreeMind Music. “Classically, people learned that way. But not gospel. So, why are we teaching it like that?”

That is the question that frames Jordan’s TC dissertation, titled “Break Every Chain: Unleashing the Cultural Pedagogy of Black Gospel Singing.” In essence, it’s also the perspective that has framed a distinguished career rooted in the gospel that filled the Black church of Jordan’s Baltimore childhood.   

No one learned gospel in a production studio or in a private lesson. Classically, people learned that way. But not gospel. So, why are we teaching it like that?

—Darryl Jordan (Ed.D. ’20, Music & Music Education)

Along with stints as Director of Music Education at Nyack College and Director of Vocal Arts & Performing Arts at the Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts, Jordan’s resume also lists stops as Choir Director of the Mount Lebanon Baptist Church in Brooklyn, and Pastor of Worship & Arts at New Song Community Church in Harlem. Post-TC, he hopes to build on that gospel-focused work through an academic approach more in keeping with the medium. 

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Meet some more of the amazing students who earned degrees from Teachers College this year.

“There is a tremendous amount of material out there on gospel as a cultural artifact, but I could probably count on one hand the number of people who are researching gospel as a pedagogical pursuit,” he says. “The oral tradition amounts to a canon that is publicized in the Black community but not mainline academia.”

Beyond his work in gospel, Jordan will be keeping busy with plenty of other pursuits in the months and years ahead. He’s the father of four children, including a newborn he and his wife welcomed to the family weeks before graduation. Professionally, the longtime educator will continue his work with burgeoning vocalists as the Choir Director and Voice Teacher at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, the inspiration for the film and TV show “Fame.” And he’ll continuing a performing career that, in addition to opera and gospel, has included work with Broadway Inspirational Voices and amateur night appearances at the Apollo Theater (he’s a four-time winner).

The oral tradition amounts to a canon that is publicized in the Black community but not mainline academia.

—Darryl Jordan (Ed.D. ’20, Music & Music Education)

“I want to get back to making music and get back to the album [titled “Time”] I started working on before I came to TC,” he says.

“I still have a hard-core desire to train the next generation of teachers, so, I want to continue teaching. But I’m also very interested in vernacular voice and how that relates to pedagogy. There are implications to expand how we teach voice and to make room for gospel.”