Norman Everett Ross, the longtime director of the city's Cultural Arts Project and organizer of the AFRAM festival, died of congestive heart failure May 27 at Seasons Hospice. The Randallstown resident was 84.
"He was a strong advocate for retaining arts in the schools," said former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who is now University of Baltimore president. "His voice was persistent and loud. He strongly felt that the arts could unify the community."
Born in Wilmington, Del., Mr. Ross was the son of Sidney and Beulah Ross. He was a 1948 graduate of Howard High School there.
"As a child, he played piano by ear. He wanted very much to play on the level of the artists he heard on the radio. He was determined to become a scholarly musician," said his granddaughter, Angela Garnett of Upper Marlboro.
He attended Morehouse College for a year and transferred to the University of Delaware, where a desegregation case was fought in his name by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Wilmington chapter. He was one of the first three African-Americans to attend the University of Delaware. He won several scholarships and earned a bachelor's degree in 1953.
He later received a master's degree at the University of Maryland, College Park and studied at Columbia University, Berkshire Music Center, Notre Dame of Maryland University and the University of Baltimore.
Mr. Ross served in the Army from 1953 to 1955 as a radio operator. Stationed in Korea, he photographed the country extensively.
He initially taught music in Queen Anne's County and joined the Baltimore City school system in the late 1950s.
"He was touted as one of the best chorus teachers in the Baltimore City schools," said his daughter, LaVerne Paula Johnson of Nottingham. "He directed a successful boys' choir at Douglass, and later he led the Dunbar Senior Mixed Choir. He was passionate about the arts at every stage of his life."
Friends said Mr. Ross joined with other Dunbar teachers who were involved in its Neighborhood Parents Club. He was approached to be director of a federal War on Poverty Model Cities program funded through the Community Action Agency.
"He was a champion and a leader for helping poor students who did not have the musical instruments they wanted to play," said state Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, a friend and colleague for more than 40 years. "He expanded the horizons for aspiring musicians."
He led the Baltimore Urban Services Cultural Arts Project from 1970 to 1983. He also ran its Gallery 409 on North Charles Street.
"He realized the lack of cultural and artistic advantages for African-Americans in Baltimore," his granddaughter said. "He enthusiastically organized what was to be one of the most successful programs of the Model Cities era. Because of his vision, hundreds of children, now adults, realized their dreams to perform as amateurs and professionals."
He also helped form the Baltimore Dance Theater, an African-American dance troupe that performed in the U.S. and in Europe.
"Mr. Ross, trained as a concert pianist, runs a project that fosters art, music, dance and theater, both in the neighborhoods and citywide," said a 1979 Evening Sun article. "He's acted as an impresario by bringing in companies like the Dallas ballet and Harlem Dance Theater, actors like Ossie Davis and virtuoso musicians like jazz saxophonist Jimmy Heath."
Mr. Ross wrote a 1976 proposal for a summer event, the AFRAM Exposition. The summer event mixed art, dance and music.
In 1983, he became the founder and director of the Eubie Blake Museum and Cultural Center on Howard Street. A floor of the museum is named for him.
He recently managed the Stephen Apartments in West Baltimore. Its community center was named in his honor in 2012.
Mr. Ross was a life member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and often played for its functions. He was also a former board member of Center Stage and Young Audiences of Maryland, among other organizations. He served on the Outreach Committee of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity, 2300 W. Lafayette Ave., where he was organist and choir master for many years.
In addition to his daughter and granddaughter, survivors include his wife of 56 years, Ruth Fisher Ross, a retired Baltimore City public school teacher; a son, Kendall Thomas Crawford Sr. of Baltimore; four grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. A son, Norman Reginald Ross, died in 1996.