Posted in History

Calvin Simmons – 1950-1982

A special edition of my blog, in honor of Black History Month and a wonderful man.

I was lucky enough to know Clavin Simmons personally.  He was the conductor of Oakland Symphony when I worked there.

Calvin Simmons Conductor

Let me backup a little bit my mom Sarah Chambers started working at the Oakland Symphony in 1977 when I was still high school. She started as the receptionist and worked her way up the ladder to the Director of Education.

During the summer she would sign me up to hand out flyers at lunchtime events. One of our board members would do the same of her daughter Libby Schaaf, now the Mayor of Oakland.

I was hired in 1980 as the receptionist and I also worked my way up the ladder to Box Office/Marketing Assistant. We both worked for the symphony until September 1986 when they filed for bankruptcy.

Sarah Chambers Director of Education and my Mom

Before the Oakland Symphony

Calvin was born in San Francisco in 1950.  Music was apart of his life from the beginning.  His mother taught him the piano.  By age 11, he was conducting the San Francisco Boys Chorus.

SF Examiner Sept 19, 1969

The Maestro Kid

He was the assistant conductor with the San Francisco Opera from 1972 to 1975, winning the Kurt Herbert Adler Award.

He remained active at the San Francisco Opera for all his adult life, supporting General Director Kurt Herbert Adler, first as a repetiteur and then as a member of the conducting staff. He made his formal debut conducting Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème with Ileana Cotrubas. His later work on a production of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District drew national attention. 

In 1979 he conducted the premiere of Menotti’s La Loca at San Diego.

He made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera conducting Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, returning the following year. He was on the musical staff at Glyndebourne from 1974 to 1978 and conducted the Glyndebourne Touring Opera.

The_Los_Angeles_Times_Tue__Jan_20__1976_ (3)

Oakland Symphony

Simmons became musical director of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra at the age 28 in 1978.  He was one of the early African-American conductors of a major orchestra.

His debut or audition was in early 1978.

SF Examiner April 1978
SF Examiner April 1978

A wordless Maestro – September 1978


Finale – 1982

His final concerts were three performances of the Requiem of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the summer of 1982 with the Masterworks Chorale and the Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra.

On Sunday, August 22, 1982, I was next door helping my husband who was repairing our neighbor’s roof. All of a sudden my mom screams out the window that Calvin has died. Such a sad day. It took another week to find his body. I t was such a loss to Oakland and to the music world. He was on his way to greatness.

Calvin was visiting friends in Upper State New York. Connery Pond was a place he went to a lot to unwind and regroup. While waiting for dinner he decided to take a canoe ride out in the. He was by himself about 150 feet from the shore, he was a good swimmer. A woman was taking pictures of the sunset from the shore. She pointed her camera towards Calvin and he must have noticed that and being the ham he was, he stood up to pose. He then fell into the water.

A memorial service was held on Sept 07, 1982 at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, more than 2200 people attended.

A memorial concert was held on Sept 20, 1982, at the Paramount Theatre, the home of the Oakland Symphony.


Various articles from August 1982

The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Mon__Aug_23__1982_ (1)

A Final Tribute

The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Tue__Sep_7__1982_ (1)

The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Tue__Sep_7__1982_ (2)


Calvin joined the Youth Orchestras tour in July of 1982

More on Calvin

The End


I have been an Oakland history buff since going on an Oakland Heritage Alliance Tour of the Fernwood Neighborhood in the Montclair District of Oakland, in the mid-80's. On that tour, I learned that there use to be a train (Sacramento Northern) that ran through Montclair, in the early 1900's and that people lived the area as early as 1860's. I have been hooked ever since. Since then I have spent a lot of time looking into the history of Montclair and I have learned a lot. I feel this will be the best way to get it out of my head and onto paper.

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