In May, WUOT—the National Public Radio station licensed to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville—named Clara Prinston host of its Afternoon Concert classical music series.
“As a violinist since the age of five and the youngest in a musical family, Clara has lived her life surrounded by the arts and especially classical music,” said Music Director Todd Steed. “She started as our weekend host in 2018 and has since become a crucial member of our team.”
“My constant exposure to classical music affects the way I approach programming and choose my music,” said Prinston. “Still, even after all this time, I’m still discovering the music for myself and my listeners.”
Prinston graduated from UT in December 2020 with degrees in linguistics and applied music—violin. The linguistics major came about because her mother suggested she look into it. “There are many overlaps between language and music,” said Prinston.
Born in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, Prinston moved with her family when she was six months old to Gressier, Haiti, where her father, Jerome, and mother, Paulette, served as missionaries on and off for 25 years. “Political unrest led them to move to Knoxville,” said Prinston.
Jerome, who received his bachelor’s degree from Johnson University, is now a professor of Bible and education there. He also plays the cello. “He led my two older siblings and me into playing instruments,” said Prinston. One of her sisters, Haniska, plays viola. The other, Welbie, plays the violin. Paulette is now a construction project coordinator for UT Facilities Services.
On arriving in Knoxville at age 6, Prinston took violin lessons for 12 years from UT School of Music Professor Miroslav Hristov. She graduated from the L&N STEM Academy in Knoxville’s old L&N Station. “It was the best thing my parents could have signed me up for,” she said. “I loved the location. It was an immersive experience. The teachers were amazing.” She also played in the L&N orchestra.
Starting her first year at UT, she studied first under Hristov and then Violin Lecturer Geoffrey Herd and played in the UT Symphony Orchestra. She co-founded and served as co-president of the Black Musicians Alliance, bringing awareness to underrepresented composers, performers, and musicians to the UT School of Music community and the Knoxville community at large. “The idea was for musicians to have a space for each other,” said Prinston, “to talk about musicians that we don’t know and to be where our hearts were—in the community, doing outreach work.”
In February 2020, Prinston and BMA co-president and co-founder Josie Campbell, now a Marshall Scholar in London, joined Knoxville Symphony Music Director Aram Demirjian and Bulgarian-American violin virtuoso Bella Hristova on the Tennessee Theatre stage for a talk before Hristova’s performance of the Florence Price Concerto No. 1. They talked about the music and answered audience questions, notably about the significance of featuring a long-neglected piece by a female African American composer.
“Oh, my gosh,” said Prinston, “to be able to do that in the presence of Bella Hristova, who had such a huge influence on me—it was very impactful, affirming, and humbling.”
Prinston got a shot at being WUOT’s weekend host thanks to a friend. “Monday Night Improvisations host Ben Hall and I went to high school together,” explained Prinston, “and we kept up that friendship through college. When the opportunity came up, Ben gave my name to Todd Steed.” Prinston interviewed with Steed, did sound checks, and started the job as a sophomore.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Prinston, like other WUOT personnel, was deemed essential. She continued to come in to the station to do her weekend broadcasts and occasionally fill in for the morning or afternoon concerts. “I am so grateful and feel so blessed that I was able to continue working on air during that crazy time,” she recalled.
When the previous Afternoon Concert host left in January, Prinston started filling in. “It was a natural transition for me, since I’d subbed for morning and afternoon concerts before ,” she explained. “When the job was officially posted, I applied for it and was adamant that I wanted the job.”
Prinston still plays her violin on a freelance basis, including in the upcoming Marble City Opera production of Tosca at Saint John’s Episcopal Cathedral.
“I feel like I’m still reflecting on my time as a student at UT,” she said. “I’m very grateful for the community I’ve built here at UT. I feel that the UT School of Music is in a very special position now, as it is making strides with diversity, equity, and inclusion. Not to mention the beautiful facilities and outstanding faculty. I believe that it’s on its way to being a nationally and internationally recognized music school among public universities. I really look forward to the school’s future.”
Afternoon Concert airs from 1 to 4 p.m. each weekday on WUOT, 91.9 FM.
Brooks Clark (865-310-1277, email@example.com)