Jazz Legendary John T. Peek - The African American Philharmonic Orchestra Will Perform Christmas Concerts and More

John T.  Peek, Chief Executive Officer and Conductor of The African American Philharmonic Orchestra (AAPO) will be performing their Christmas Concert on November 29 and 30th, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia at the Southwest Arts Center.

Nov 29 & 30, 2014; Dec 1 - the 18th year Light-Up College Park (6pm); Dec 6 - at Bowden Citizen Facility; Dec 14 - Christmas at Seventh Day Adventist Church (4pm); Dec15 - Private function


To see this conductor at age 86 still display his extraordinary talent as he did when he traveled with other greats, such as Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Hines, Sarah Vaughan, Little Richard, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, Billy Eckstine, Louis Armstrong, etc. will be an emotional and unforgettable moment. John’s orchestra connects with both the younger and older generation of musicians and audiences.

John Peek directing The African American Philharmonic Orchestra (AAPO) - Courtesy of AAPO Website


AAPO is a special, close knit and unique orchestra, that is able to perform anywhere, such as outdoor/indoor concerts, weddings, receptions, senior citizen facilities, corporate events, mayor’s ball, presentations at schools, many Christmas events and more.


In February 1988, Mrs. Carrie Whaley-Peek, John’s hard working wife and Chief of Financial Officer (CFO) of the orchestra, saw the talent her husband displayed when he used his business skills while they worked at Sears together.

Carrie Whaley-Peek, Chief of Financial Officer/Administration - Courtesy of Renee Sudderth



Carrie and John Peek after a phenomenal concert - Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

She suggested they create their own orchestra. Afterward, John and Thomas Stewart, a trumpet player, arranger, producer, composer and pianist became founder and co-founder of the African American Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra in Atlanta.


Music South Corporation, a non-profit organization who only surviving Board Member, Billy Reid presented John and his orchestra with an award, being Atlanta’s First All-Black Professional Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorale. At that time there were only four Black Orchestras but now there are eight in the United States. Since that time, Mr. Stewart has been inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and has won high praises working with the bands for Morris Brown College and Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.

Atlanta's First All-Black Professional Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorale Presentation - Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

At age 12, John received his first horn from his father who lived to be 95 years old. John’s strong admiration for his father and his father’s brothers who all were trumpet players were inspirational in his life.


Also, John looked up to the famous Carolina Cotton Pickers, Charleston, SC which was a touring band created in the 1920’s from the roster of Jenkins Orphanage Band musicians that featured some of the biggest artist that he had the priviledge to play with through the years.


John enjoyed traveling to the northern United States where he spent a lot of time in New York and traveling around the Chitlins Circuit. Chitlins Circuit was a popular group of theaters and nightclubs that catered to Black audiences that featured Black entertainers such as the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theatre.

The Cotton Club, one of the hottest Jazz Venues in New York - Courtesy of untappedcities.com


Art Kane Historical Portrait Harlem (NY) 1958 of the Jazz Muisicans - Courtesy of farm8.Staticflicker


Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to experience the Apollo Theatre entertainment when the Jacksons returned to the Apollo after 45 years when they were part of the Chitlins Circuit in 1967 with their little brother Michael who later became the “King of Pop”.  I can just image how it was in the 1930’s, 1940’s and etc. John’s dream was to have his own Chitlins Circuit in Atlanta after playing at the Royal Peacock in Atlanta, Georgia.

First check written to John Peek for first gig by the late former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson - Courtesy of Renee Sudderth


John Peek inducted into Atlanta Hall of Fame, December 4, 2007 - Courtesy of Renee Sudderth


When John mentioned Rev. Joseph Lowery’s (age 93) name, a warrior for God, and a warrior for the Civil Rights Movement my eyes lit up because I had just heard Rev. Lowery and Rev. C.T. Vivian  speak at my church, Antioch Baptist Church North (Pastor Cameron Alexander) two days prior. John related that he can hear Rev. Lowery say “Now John, I want you to play the Blues for me”.  John would smile and play the Blues at his request.

Rev. Joseph Lowery & Conducter John Peek in early years - Courtesy of Renee Sudderth


Beautician/Ms Keye Lowery, Rev. Joseph Lowery, Renee Sudderth - Courtesy of Renee Sudderth



Through the years, John has been a successful musician and conductor but he never forgot his deep roots that include family members, too.  James “Dub” Hudson who is a member of the orchestra taught two of John’s young relatives, Averil and David Taylor to play the clarinet at an early age. Now the Taylor brothers play the trumpet and trombone respectively and are in separate bands. Averil periodically stands in as the conductor and says "it makes you feel good performing with the older guys. The spirit is there and you can feel the authentication and it rubs off on you".  David says "knowing John and his experiences with some of the early great musician is truly amazing and an experience you will never forget".  

Averil Taylor directing The African American Philharmonic Orchestra (AAPO) while John Peek observe - Courtesy of Renee Sudderth


Also, John’s son Darryl Peek appears showcasing his great voice, sounding like Luther Vandross at times. Another family member who usually ends the concert is his brother Mason Johnson, age 90 who does a phenomenal rendition of Louis Armstrong “What a Wonderful World” which brings the audience to their feet. The orchestra members love to see the reaction of the audience. The orchestra is a combination of family and life-long friends, young and old who are treated like family. That is one of the successes of this close-knit orchestra, who loves to travel, perform and pray together.

John Peek, Mason Johnson and former Atlanta Police Chief-Eldrin Bell performing an outdoor concert in Clayton County, Georgia - Courtesy of Renee Sudderth


Ken Ford, who is at the top of the chart was an accomplished violinist who joined the AAPO. While a member, he was able to play for the late great Barry White and now he is a Concert Master.


John says “the most significant moment in history was at the Atlanta Civic Center in 1990 when we had our first major concert. The work that Carrie, Thomas and I did with the African American Philharmonic Orchestra resulted in a big concert. We were so proud because it had never been done before and has never been done again. The audience was so excited. We continue to perform there for some years and later performed at Morehouse College for years”.


The African American Philharmonic Orchestra (AAPO) - Courtesy of AAPO Website


John says "the funniest things from the stage is how the audience reacts to our performances. A great performance is the feeling one gets when the crowd is excited and that enthusiasm turns into participation. That is why my brother Mason closes the show. Things really happen when he takes a break from his trumpet to sing.  That is why we have the young musician so we will never let our legacy die.”


John Peek training Averil Taylor while Jazz-Classic-Pianist, Terry Harper concentrates on her music - Courtesy of Renee Sudderth


Before I ended the interview, I had to ask Mr. John Peek what legacy he wanted to share and leave behind. He said, “To continue the music that creates discipline for young musicians to look forward to. The real deal in life is to accomplish everything you do in life. Music is simple Math and Science and it creates the best doctors, lawyers and etc.  The key is when you give a child an instrument it will keep him busy. Music creates the best of who we are. It keeps you occupied and focused. That’s why we have the young musicians intertwine with us pioneers so we won’t let this music legacy die.”


Musical Veteran John Peek and Military Veteran Renee Sudderth standing proudly on Veteran's Day (Nov 11) 2014 - Courtesy of Renee Sudderth


Also, John says, “ Life is a joy and it’s how you want to live it” while his beloved wife Carrie says “I’m blessed every day, overjoyed and excited about the Christmas Concert because I’ve been waiting over 10 years to share our concert with the world”. After all that was said and done all I could say was “Thank you God for allowing me to part of this great historical family and may everyone take time to spend with their Legends in their family”.  Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!!

"Its a Family Affair" - John Peek, Justin Griffin, Olivia Redding, Renee Sudderth, Carrie Peek, Uladia Taylor, Averil Taylor, Alicia Taylor, Toni Sudderth, Arthur Burton, Darryl Peek and David Taylor - Courtesy of Renee Sudderth


African American Philharmonic Orchestra website


 Copyright © 2014.November This story written and photos by Renee Sudderth for Splash Magazines. It is not to be sold or reproduce without written permission of Renee Sudderth



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