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Schuyler, Philippa Duke

Schuyler, Philippa Duke

Schuyler, Philippa Duke, black American pianist and composer; b. N.Y., Aug. 2, 1931; d. in a helicopter crash in Da Nang Bay, Vietnam, May 9, 1967. By the age of 12, she had written the whimsical Cockroach Ballet for Piano and had become the youngest member of ASCAP; at the age of 14, she appeared as piano soloist with the N.Y. Phil, at Lewisohn Stadium in a program that included the scherzo from her “fairy-tale symphony,” Rumpelstiltskin (July 13, 1946); made her Town Hall debut in N.Y. on May 12, 1953. She traveled to Africa, Europe, South America, and Asia under the auspices of the State Dept., playing command performances for such leaders as Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and the Queen of Malaya. A product of miscegenation (her mother was from a wealthy white Tex. family; her father, George Schuyler, was the black novelist and newspaper ed.), she was a founder of the Amerasian Foundation to aid children fathered by American soldiers in Vietnam. Most of her more than 60 compositions were for solo piano, many with humorous titles, some inspired by her travels; few were publ. Her last completed composition, Nile Fantasia for Piano and Orch., was performed posthumously (N.Y, Sept. 24, 1967). She wrote 5 books about her life and travels: Adventures in Black and White (N.Y, 1960), Who Killed the Congo (N.Y, 1963), Jungle Saints: Africa’s Heroic Catholic Missionaries (Rome, 1962), Kingdom of Dreams (with her mother, Josephine Schuyler; N.Y, 1966), and Good Men Die (N.Y, 1969). Her funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in N.Y. received extensive press coverage. In recognition of her musical and literary precocity, Mayor Fiorello La-Guardia declared June 19, 1940, Philippa Schuyler Day at the N.Y. World’s Fair.


J. Schuyler, Philippa the Beautiful American: The Travelled History of a Troubadour (N.Y., 1969).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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