Artistic and Music Director Brandon Waddles

Brandon Waddles, PhD., a composer, conductor and educator with deep roots in the Detroit music tradition,was named the new artistic director of Rackham Choir, effective July 1, 2021.

Waddles began working with the choir this month, and hopes to put on a first concert in the fall. He is also director of choral activities at Wayne State University and music director for Ledisi, a Grammy-winning recording artist.

He succeeds Suzanne Acton, the chorus master and assistant music director for Michigan Opera Theater, who was Rackham’s artistic director for 25 years.

A majority of choir members voted to hire Waddles after an extensive vetting process, which included virtual interviews and mock rehearsals with the top candidates.

“Brandon is a native Detroiter with deep roots, connections, and respect in the musical scene (academic, church, popular, jazz), and I expect Rackham to grow in new ways based on the collaborations his network will facilitate,” said Victoria Bigelow, soprano and member of Rackham’s board of directors.

“(He) has a comprehensive musical background spanning cultures, time periods, and genres,” she added. “I expect his programming to be eclectic while also forefronting works by African American composers.”

Waddles was in middle school when he first saw Rackham perform. The show was Too Hot to Handel, a jazz-infused rendition of Handel’s Messiah, and his father Alvin, a preeminent Detroit gospel pianist, was collaborating with the choir.

“It was one of the first times I’d seen a choir move out of the framework of the Western European choral tradition,” he said. “What I appreciated about Rackham and Suzanne and Too Hot to Handel was that they took American music and put it in the concert hall.”

Acton believes Rackham’s future is bright with Waddles taking up the conductor’s baton.

“He’s got energy and he’s got talent, and I think it’s going to be exciting for Rackham,” she said. “Now it’s his turn to experiment.”

Rackham is among the oldest vocal music groups in metro Detroit. Founded in 1949 with high ambitions in classical music, the choir performed for a time with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Under Acton, the choir sharpened its musical standards while exploring material from numerous genres and time periods.

Waddles said he hopes to continue Rackham’s exploration of diverse musical traditions while strengthening the choir’s community ties through collaborations with groups such as the choirs at Wayne State, the Detroit Youth Choir, and Mosaic Youth Theatre.

“He can be a maverick,” said Rod Dixon, a professional tenor who has served as a soloist in numerous productions of Too Hot to Handel and has known Waddles for decades. “He can meet expectations and standards artistically, and he can think outside of the box on so many levels with the choir. It will be interesting to see how many people are drawn to be involved.”

Waddles’ childhood was suffused with the myriad sounds and rhythms of Detroit’s rich music scene.

He spent many Saturdays with his father in jazz clubs, theaters, and concert stages, absorbing a wide spectrum of musical styles from Puccini to Stephen Sondheim to Miles Davis.
Sundays, though, were all church and church music for the Waddles family. Brandon soaked in Baptist devotional songs, Methodist anthems, Negro spirituals and the works of Thomas Whitfield.

“It was not a rarity for us to do two worship services, go eat, then come back for an afternoon program,” Waddles recalled. “Then you might have a smaller gospel group that you may be playing for, and you went to a midnight musical in the evening. Sundays were all church.”

Those long hours shaped his musical sensibilities, and also the idea of bringing large groups of people together to sing — what he calls “the community experience of artistry.”
“Music is for all of us,” he explained, adding: “I am a native of Detroit, I admire the culture that has been passed on to me, and I’m passionate about giving it back.”

Music Coach

Known for her "supple, distinctive musical direction," lead Music Coach for the Rackham Choir High School Intern Program and conductor Suzanne Mallare Acton continues to earn respect and admiration for her performances in both the concert hall and the opera stage. From Handel’s “Messiah” to contemporary jazz, she is recognized for her versatility and dynamic style.

As long-term chorus master of the Michigan Opera Theatre, Ms. Acton has worked on over 150 productions in seven different languages with world-renowned artists Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Cleo Laine and many more.

From 1996 to 2021, Ms. Acton has served as artistic/music director of Rackham Choir. In her mission to promote choral music in the community that has social relevance, she has programmed and conducted many works including Karl Jenkins’ “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace” with the premier of an original film “The Armed Boy” commissioned by Rackham Choir at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

Ms. Acton has been recognized by Corp! Magazine as one of Michigan’s 95 Most Powerful Women. Under her leadership, Rackham Choir was awarded the prestigious 2008 Governor's Award for outstanding contributions to Arts and Culture in Michigan. She was recognized by Corp! Magazine as one of Michigan’s 85 Most Powerful Woman. In 2014, she was selected as an honoree of WJR’s 2014 Class of Women Who Lead.

Joseph Jackson has served as the resident accompanist of Rackham Choir and continues to play an integral role as music coach for the students in the Rackham Choir High School Internship Program.

He currently serves as the Organist/Music Associate of the First Presbyterian Church of Royal Oak, accompanist for the Michigan Opera Theater Children's Chorus, is a Michigan Opera Theatre touring artist, and accompanist for the Berkley High School Choirs. His prior positions include Music Director at several historic churches including The First Presbyterian Church of Detroit and the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia.

Mr. Jackson is a frequent recitalist and accompanist throughout the country. His broadcast credits include National Public Radio's The First Art and Pipedreams. His solo recording Philadelphia Gothic appears on the label DTR and his performance of the Howard Hansen Organ Concerto is available on the Naxos label.

Executive Board 2020-2021

  • Emily Eichenhorn
    RC Board President and Managing Board Member, Attorney
  • Anna Giammarco
    RC Board Vice-President, MBA, Small Business Advisor
  • Luz Corrigan
    RC Board Treasurer, Financial Consultant
  • Beth Adams
    RC Board Secretary, Marketing Manager
  • Lori Weatherwax
    RC Class A Chorus Representative, Skilled Trades Leader

Board Members 2020- 2021

  • Brandon Waddles, PhD
    RC Artistic and Music Director, Ex-Officio to the Board, Director of Choral Activities and Lecturer Wayne State University
  • Beth Adams
    RC Board Secretary, retired IT Sales Professional
  • Gregory Ashe
    Marketing Committee Chair, Senior Financial Aid Outreach Advisor, Oakland University
  • Victoria Bigelow, PhD
    RC Education Committee Chair, Evaluation Coordinator, University of Michigan
  • Simone Bonino
    VP Product Marketing, Altair Corp.
  • Luz Corrigan
    RC Board Treasurer, Financial Consultant, IAC Group
  • Emily Eichenhorn
    RC Board President and Managing Director, Attorney
  • Anna Giammarco
    RC Board Vice President and Development Chair, CEO Studio H2G
  • Ray Litt
    Retired electrician and business owner
  • Stephanie Miltimore
    Business owner
  • Patricia Minnick
    RC Choir Manager, Coordinator, Music Activities, Schoolcraft College
  • Jennifer Pasha
    Office Manager/Executive Assistant
  • Lori Weatherwax
    RC Class A Chorus Rep., Ford Motor Co. Skilled Trades Leader
  • Harry Williams
    RC Class A Chorus Rep. (Alternate ), Disaster Recovery Service


  • RC Artistic and Music Director, Ex-Officio to the Board, Director of Choral Activities and Lecturer Wayne State University
    Brandon Waddles, PhD
  • Past Artistic and Music Director, High School Intern Lead Coach
    Suzanne Mallare Acton
  • Music Coach
    Joseph Jackson
  • Education Coordinator
    Victoria Bigelow, PhD
  • Administrator
    Kim Corbeil
  • Choir Manager
    Patricia Minnick
  • Marketing Consultant
    Carly Uhrig

The 2020 - 2021 Choir

  • Maureen Abele
  • Beth Adams
  • Charlie Arnett, section leader
  • Gregory Ashe, section leader
  • Fran Bachmann
  • Victoria Bigelow, section leader
  • Myriam Bobe
  • Kathy Boettcher
  • Michael Boettcher
  • Simone Bonino
  • Erica Brehmer
  • Laura Casai
  • Matthew Cochran
  • Lacey Cooper
  • Joan Crawford
  • Hannah Cressman
  • Zhicheng Cui
  • Beth Deuel
  • Joseph Dluzniewski
  • Michelle Drummond
  • Emily Eichenhorn
  • Sawyer Evans, High School intern
  • Lauren Fisher
  • Corinne Foote
  • Jaeden Footitt, student member
  • Susan A. Fox
  • Yvonne Friday, section leader
  • Jeff Fritz
  • Drew Gale
  • Emily Gay
  • Anna Giammarco
  • Andrea Gibson
  • Avital Granot
  • Gary Hasley
  • Kimberly Henderson
  • Victoria Isabell
  • Richard Jackson
  • Chris Jones
  • Wendy Keebler
  • Andrea Koueiter
  • Jeff Krueger, section leader
  • Meli Laurance
  • Koby Levin
  • Scott Maggart
  • Anne Maters
  • Patricia Minnick
  • Jim Moore
  • Nancy Nelson
  • Deb Nero
  • Paolo Pacheco
  • Amy Parenteau
  • Jennifer Pasha
  • Steven P. Pejuan
  • Sarah Piper
  • Carys Rees-Baker, High School intern
  • Laverne Schenk
  • Grace Schroeder
  • Alan Sebastian
  • Bill Steiner
  • Judith Szefi
  • Andrea Tawil
  • Ayana Thomas
  • Brett Thompson
  • David Twigg
  • Diana Turner
  • Linda Van Buren
  • Jack Walpuck
  • Grace Watson, High School intern
  • Lori Weatherwax
  • Danielle Weitzman
  • Ashley Wester
  • Harry Williams, Jr.
  • Kim Witten
  • Will Yeats