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Negro String Quartet

Negro String Quartet

Founded by Felix Weir and active from 1920 to 1933, the Negro String Quartet performed in the musical programs of many churches and community organizations in Harlem and at Columbia University. Its members were Weir and Arthur Boyd, first and second violins respectively; Hall Johnson, viola; and Marion Cumbo, cello. They performed both European chamber music and the music of African-American composers, including Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Clarence Cameron White. Johnson, who later formed his own choir and arranged many African-American spirituals, also composed and arranged music for the quartet. The Negro String Quartet was the musical descendant of the American String Quartet, also founded by Weir, which included Joseph Lymos, Hall Johnson, and Leonard Jeter. Despite its brief tenure (19141919), its members bequeathed a distinguished reputation to the Negro String Quartet: Johnson and Jeter were members of the original pit orchestra of the Broadway musical Shuffle Along (together with Eubie Blake and William Grant Still). Jeter performed the Schumann Cello Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1914 and was one of Marion Cumbo's cello teachers.

The Negro String Quartet's most significant performance was on November 28, 1925, at Carnegie Hall, when it accompanied Roland Hayes singing spirituals arranged by Hall Johnson for tenor, piano, and string quartet. Of that performance, the New York Times music critic Olin Downes wrote, "The performance had the profound and mystical feeling that the slave songs possessa spirituality and pathos given them in fact as well as in name. Thus the final group was not merely an expected item of an entertainment, but rather the contribution of musicians and artists together in the presence of a common ideal of beauty."

See also Blake, Eubie; Still, William Grant


Cuney-Hare, Maude. Negro Musicians and Their Music. Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers, 1936.

Downes, Olin. "Roland Hayes Sings." New York Times, November 28, 1925.

Waters, Ethel, with Charles Samuels. His Eye Is on the Sparrow. New York: Doubleday, 1951.

timothy w. holley (1996)

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