Gospel Artist Felton ’15 Fosters a New Generation of Musicians

Teacher and gospel musician Daniel James Felton ’15 is making an impact in the classroom and on stage.
Posted on August 23rd, 2021 by

“That’s the thing about Gustavus — you get to do everything,” said Gustavus Adolphus College alum Daniel James Felton ’15 about his time on the hill. Now, as both a high school music teacher and an award-winning saxophonist, he still does.

This summer, Felton was named the 2021 Instrumental Artist of the Year by the Gospel Choice Music Awards. The summer before, amid a turbulent time for teachers and musicians alike, Felton released his EP Breath of God, an album that is “intrinsically tied” with his personal journey and his faith.

“When I think about playing my horn, none of it is my own ability,” said Felton. “I may have been given talents to play, but when I play, I have to be in tune with the spirit of God. I can breathe into my horn because it’s the breath that God’s giving me.”

Felton received an award for Instrumental Artist of the Year at the 27th Annual Gospel Choice Music Awards.

Felton’s musical journey began as a child in the congregation of his father’s church, a journey he continued at Gustavus. To any onlooker, it would look like Felton did everything — not just playing in groups such as Vasa Wind Orchestra, Jazz Band, and Gustavus Choir, but also dancing, traveling to Europe, and even appearing on an episode of Family Feud.

Since graduating from Gustavus with a degree in music education, Felton has had a diverse range of teaching experiences and mentors along the way. But whether those mentors were in Saint Peter or Spain, their advice was to focus less on rigid lesson plans and more on the needs of his actual students. Now, the core principle of his teaching is simply to “play music excellently and have fun.”

As Director of Instrumental Music at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, Felton is passionate about listening to the voices of his students. He makes sure to bring diverse genres into the classroom so that students can see themselves represented in the music they’re playing. His classroom thrives on having conversations with students about what would be meaningful for them to perform, then taking their input into account when choosing songs.

He hopes this approach, in addition to sharing his own career as a performer, will inspire some of his students to become lifelong musicians. “I’m not just trying to teach you,” he tells them. “I’m trying to show you where you can be.”

Balancing his passion for both careers is never easy, but he believes that being in the classroom pushes him to be a better musician and vice versa. When he sees students pick up concepts in class, he reflects on his own growth as a musician. And when he sees a performer using new, creative techniques, he puts on his “educator hat” and takes notes on how he might improve.

Now, as music lovers look forward to live performances once again, Felton sees playing music for others as an opportunity to tell his own story. “Not only am I amplifying my voice as an African-American,” he said, “but as Christian African-American expressing gospel music on my saxophone.”

Felton will play his first live solo set on Aug. 26 as part of the University of Minnesota’s outdoor concert series “Amplifying Solidarity: A Northrop Plaza Series.” The performance will start at 12 p.m. at Northrop Plaza Stage and is free and open to the public.

“This concert amidst COVID-19 is a continual reminder, as a musician, of the honor of performing for people,” said Felton. “I want people to leave this concert with hope, with joy, with encouragement. I want them to have fun and to really enjoy the goodness of culture, of faith, of my life and the music that God’s helped me to make.”


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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