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Community music school in Detroit names new director: Detroit native Kristopher Johnson

November 23, 2021
Headshot of Kris Johnson. Photo courtesy of the College of Music.
Headshot of Kris Johnson. Photo courtesy of the College of Music. —

When Director of Jazz Studies for the College of Music Rodney Whitaker was searching for a new director of the Community Music School in Detroit, or CMS-D, he and the rest of the hiring committee were looking for someone who knows the Detroit community well.

Kristopher Johnson — a Detroit native, Michigan State University alumnus, educator and Grammy-nominated composer, arranger and trumpeter — is the person they were looking for.

“He’s a very smart person; very articulate and really knows the lay of the land, and (is) already so connected within that community,” Whitaker said. 

Whitaker said Johnson possessed the necessary qualities for the director position.

“When you’re running a university outreach program you got to be willing to partner with the community,” Whitaker said. “Not come in as a big university, and ‘we’re gonna bring these programs to you,’ but what is it that we can do to help the community with what they’re already trying to accomplish.”

About the Community Music School at MSU

The MSU Community Music School in East Lansing opened in 1993 as an outreach tool for the College of Music. It provides music education and therapy to everyone regardless of age and ability.

CMS-D opened its location in 2009. It provides lifelong education from Pre-K through adult learning to students in the Metro Detroit area, Johnson said. 

“What’s really wonderful with this program is we’re serving students from a really large diverse group, in terms of age groups,” Johnson said. “We really try to offer opportunities for as many people as possible.”

Johnson’s background and goals as director 

Before becoming the CMS-D director on Nov. 15, Johnson has career experience working for the Motown Museum in Detroit, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Civic Youth Ensembles, Ohio State University, the University of Utah and more. 

Growing up in Metro Detroit, Johnson went to Southfield-Lathrup High School. His band director was MSU alumnus Damien Crutcher.

“(Crutcher) really instilled a lot of excellence in me as a musician, and also really encouraged me to be a part of as many youth programs as possible,” Johnson said.

At Southfield-Lathrup, Johnson was drum major, section leader and participated in youth ensembles through MSU, the University of Michigan, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association, or MSBOA.

“For me, it was really important to be out in the community as much as possible and really interacting with people from different organizations,” Johnson said.

In his new role, Johnson said he is focused on helping the youth of Detroit, as well as making sure the community knows about CMS-D’s mission and the work it is doing. 

“The power that the arts have to transform lives, and to give purpose, to be a means of self-expression and to be a medium that we can use towards bettering ourselves — that was my experience with music growing up,” Johnson said. “Anything that I can do that can be in support of students finding something similar is just something that I’m very passionate about.”

Additionally, Johnson wants to make sure CMS-D has the proper financial support it needs. 

“Making sure that we’re on top of the latest grants,” Johnson said. “To be able to offer our lessons and our programs either at a subsidized cost, or in some cases, even completely free, depending on what the need is in the community.”

Whitaker said the College of Music is excited Johnson is joining them as the new CMS-D director.

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“We know that it will be a rewarding opportunity to have him on staff,” Whitaker said.


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