The news was announced in April, so Dr. Roland Carter has had several months to “bask,” as he puts it, in plans to name a street after him on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus.
But he’s still not quite sure what to think about it.
“This is perhaps the highest honor that I’ve had in my life, and I’m so excited about it, but I think, ‘Why me?’” said Carter, who spent 23 years at UTC as a faculty member and in administration.
“If I tried to analyze what I’ve done that would give me this honor, I owe it to everybody else, to those who came before me, those who opened the groundwork for me, those who have supported me. It’s not just about me.”
A ceremony on Friday, Nov. 4, will be just about him when the section of Vine Street from Lupton Hall to Palmetto Street is renamed “Dr. Roland Carter Street.” The dedication begins at 3 p.m. at the Fine Arts Center.
The newly renamed street runs alongside the center, and it’s appropriate to give it Carter’s name since “it is the building that he taught in for so many years,” said Dr. Kenyon Wilson, interim head of the Department of Performing Arts.
Carter, now 80 years old, retired in 2013 and is a professor emeritus at UTC. In his time at the University, he taught, conducted choirs, arranged music and mentored and recruited students.
“UTC is a better place because of the impact he’s made in the lives of hundreds of students,” said Stacy Lightfoot, vice chancellor for diversity and engagement at UTC. “He’s so humble and considers himself a teacher first. While he composes and writes music, students have always been his priority.”
Carter grew up in Chattanooga and graduated from The Howard School in 1960. After joining the UTC Department of Music, he was head of the department from 1989 until 1995, becoming the first African American to hold the position—which Lightfoot called a “significant and historical” role.
Throughout his career, Carter has been an advocate for the musical traditions of African American heritage. He is most celebrated for his arrangements of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and the spiritual “In Bright Mansions Above,” as well as for his arrangement of the Langston Hughes’s poem “Hold Fast to Dreams.”
In December 2021, Carter donated 50 years of sheet music, newspaper clippings, national and international awards, recordings and other items to the UTC Library’s Special Collections.
“My thinking in donating them to the library was to make sure that they are still accessible, that they will be placed where people can come and research or look up music or study the scores, so they don’t get lost,” he said at the time.
Carter’s influence spreads far beyond UTC, Lightfoot said.
“The world is a better place for his passion and gifts,” she said.
While acknowledging his decades of accomplishments, awards and worldwide recognition, Carter insisted he’s just another link in a long chain.
“I understand my music skills and my talents and what I’ve done and all that, but there are people who, again, have done much more than I have. There are people whose shoulders I stand on,” he said.
“Maybe it’s just false modesty, though,” he added with a laugh.