Johns Hopkins University has a long history of enthusiastic support for its undergraduate a cappella singing groups. From Adoremus and Humming Jay to Ketzev and Kranti, groups specializing in Christian, Korean, Jewish and Indian music respectively, they represent a variety of cultures and traditions.
But Mariano Thomas wanted to address a representation gap: As a freshman, he led a student-led pitch for a new a cappella group celebrating the music of the African diaspora and the African-American tradition. Melanates launched in fall 2019 with a focus on R&B, soul, hip-hop and rap and gained momentum despite the pandemic shutdown in the wake of its creation. The group now performs in concerts with JHU’s 12 other a cappella groups at venues like “The O Show” during orientation, family weekend, the quad lighting and cultural show, said the advise. Nicole Willsondirector of the university’s Office of Arts and Innovation.
For his dedication, Thomas received the 2023 award President’s Commendation for Artistic Achievement, a service award established in 1989 by former JHU President Steven Muller to honor a graduate who has made significant contributions to the arts through service to the Homewood and/or Baltimore communities. The winner of the President’s Commendation receives a certificate and their name appears in the commencement program.
“Thanks to the leadership of Mariano and other committed students, the Melanotes have been one of the fastest growing a cappella groups on campus, and I can truly say that over the past several years, the musical integrity and growth of the group have been remarkable and impressive,” Willson wrote in his letter of recommendation. “I am confident that Melanotes will continue to be a strong and integral part of campus life for years to come.”
Thomas will receive his degree in neuroscience later this month, concluding a creativity-filled undergraduate tenure as a member of the Dunbar Baldwin Hughes Theater Company alongside his service with Greek Life and the Black Student Union.
“Between the Melanotes and DBH, I was able to express myself freely and showcase my love for the arts, especially singing and acting,” Thomas wrote in his nomination for the President’s Commendation. “Through the arts, I hope to inspire and heal people like artists did for me. It is important for everyone to have art in their lives, especially those who are not professional artists, because it is an education and can serve as an outlet for expression. Art can be a safe space in the most difficult times.