Dennard, who died Monday at age 81 at his Detroit home after a long illness, was a man of many accomplishments. He had a significant career as a teacher and administrator in the Detroit Public Schools. He co-founded Classical Roots, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s annual celebration of African-American composers and musicians. He built a nationally recognized choir admired for its professionalism and wide repertoire, including works by contemporary black composers and masterpieces by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and others. He also founded a youth chorale in 1985.
But his greatest calling was the preservation of spirituals, the religious folksongs of African-American slaves, which he championed through performances, recordings, workshops, guest conducting, published arrangements, articles, historical research and the dialogue he maintained for decades with choral directors and singers throughout the country.