Date Released: May 5, 2017

Corbin Sanders

By D. Aileen Dodd

Corbin Sanders grew up in a Chicago neighborhood where riots locked down college prep schools, grocery stores abandoned blocks, and a skinny kid with a violin and no gang affiliation was a walking target. 

But he escaped it all - the whir of sirens, the crime scene tape, the lost souls huddling on the corner – by landing a music scholarship to Morehouse College. On May 21, Sanders, will graduate with honors and begin a professional music career.

Sanders, the youngest of five born to a single mom, believes that Morehouse College gave him a new life.

“I graduated from John Hope College Prep High School,” he said. “It used to be one of those top-notch schools, but by the time I got there it was out of control. We had a lot of fights at school, a lot of gang-banging activity. We had a few riots where police had to come in and shut everything down. Englewood had become one of the roughest neighborhoods in Chicago.”

Teachers who saw promise in Sanders encouraged the honor roll student to study hard so he could get out of Englewood. They told him to take advantage of after school programs to stay safe and out of trouble. Sanders spent his afternoons at Sherwood Park shooting hoops at the recreation center to pass the time. He knew he was no pro baller. He didn’t have the height.

But he did pick up a skill from an elementary school teacher in a class across the hall from the gym. He learned to play violin effortlessly. His teacher said he had a gift.

“I used to be ashamed to walk around the hood with a violin,” Sanders said.  “All the looks I would get made it just plain awkward.”

Nevertheless, he hauled his violin through the city blocks and avoided eye contact. His teacher said playing violin could be his ticket to college. Sanders, the first in his family to graduate from college, had heard about Morehouse as a child during a Black History Month lesson on Martin Luther King Jr. He wanted to apply someday.

“Harvard is one of the schools you just know about; you know its prestigious, you don’t have to do any research,” he said. “That is how Morehouse was for me. It was my No. 1 choice.”

Sanders applied and got in. “Morehouse offered me full tuition and a grant from the music department,” he said. “It was a dream come true. I never knew how good I was on the violin.”

At first, Sanders was in shock when he walked Morehouse’s campus. He saw black men in suits walking swiftly to class as if they were execs in training. They greeted him with respect. They didn’t mean mug or look through him as if he were invisible. He didn’t have to fear for his safety. He could just focus on improving himself and building his artistry.

At Morehouse’s music department, Sanders worked overtime to develop his technique as a violinist. For the first time, he got lessons from a real professional in the business. 

“My violin teacher plays in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra,” Sanders boasted.

And Sanders played with an orchestra, too, the Atlanta University Center Orchestra.

With a regimen of intense practice sessions five days a week in a quiet room at the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center at Morehouse, Sanders learned to play flawlessly. He performs the classics and challenges himself with contemporary pieces.

 “The violin is an elegant instrument,” he said. “It fits me very well. I enjoy it.”

Sanders mimics the masters Itzhak Perlman and Hillary Hahn, but he’s inspired by the innovation of hip-hop violin artists Tourie and Damien Escobor and their group Nuttin’ But Stringz. The young classic violinists became a household name after they combined their skill with their passion for rap music to launch a new genre for stringed instruments. The group was one of the finalists competing for a Las Vegas theater job on “America’s Got Talent” in 2008.

“Orchestras are slowly dying,” Sanders said. “The move for violin is the hip-hop circuit. I want to play the music I like while inspiring people in the process.”

He has already begun to record music professionally. Recently, he laid some tracks with Morehouse adjunct professor Kennard Garrett, a recording industry pro who has worked with several artists.

“Kennard is a successful music producer,” Sanders said. “You have to come ready when you work with him. He doesn’t play. Once he gets at that seat in front of the computer, it goes nonstop for three or four hours.”

After graduation, Sanders will focus on his recording career, but he hasn’t ruled out teaching violin or taking on contracts. He regularly provides accompaniment for campus contests such as Mr. Junior. 

Sanders said he is thankful for his experience at Morehouse; it is where he learned to be a “Morehouse Man.” He describes the distinction this way: “A Morehouse Man is someone who stands out when he walks in a room. He is captivating. He carries himself with confidence, has integrity, handles his responsibilities, and represents himself well at all times.”

Coming to Morehouse changed the way that he sees himself in the world. “It’s crazy when I think about it,” Sanders said. “To this day, when I tell people my story, I still can’t believe that my violin playing got me here.

 “I’m around so many intelligent people,” he added. “You never really know who the person sitting next to you is going to be.”


Name: Corbin Sanders 

Major: Music 

Hometown: Chicago

Clubs: Atlanta University Center Symphony Orchestra; Member of Omicron Delta Kappa 

Professor integral to my success: My violin professor, Kenn Wagner, who has provided me with the necessary exercises and techniques to take my artistry to the next level.

Programs integral to my success: The Morehouse Department of Music as a whole has served as an important factor in my success. I was lucky to be a part of a department with a solid faculty who has made an impact on my journey to becoming a solid musician and student. 

Plans after graduation: I want to play the music I like while inspiring people in the process.

Last Modified: May 8, 2017, 13:05 PM, by: Kara Walker

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