When the first Africans arrived in 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia, they brought with them a rich musical heritage. In the culture from which these slaves were torn, music and dance were part of almost every individual or communal activity. Each community had expert musicians who transmitted these vital skills, orally and through training, from generation to generation. They brought to the New World not only their songs, poems, and dances, but their love of and need for music as an integral part of daily life.
Slaves brought to the New World were stripped of material possessions and were severely restricted in expressing their African identity, but they were able to remember and pass on to their children some of their rich cultural traditions. The Africans absorbed much of the folk and religious music of the white culture—which followed European models—while cherishing their own native practices. The resulting hybrid was a uniquely American style of music adopted by both white and black musicians.
Enslaved Africans sang English psalms and hymns in church as they converted to Christianity. They heard folk and popular tunes in the taverns and in their homes. Some slaves in the South studied with itinerant music teachers. The most talented musicians gained professional skills that were quickly put to use by whites. Both bonded servants and slave musicians, playing instruments such as the violin, flute, and piano, provided much of the recreational music for their masters. On the self-sufficient plantations of the South, the most musically gifted of the domestic slaves provided evening entertainments. They played at dance balls and dancing schools. Once public concerts became possible and popular in the New World, a few talented slaves actually gave public concerts.
Besides instrumentalists, African Americans were dance and military band leaders, composers and arrangers, singers, church choral directors, and entertainers. Free African Americans in Northern cities, such as Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, established remarkable careers and enjoyed wide esteem before the Civil War. One of the best examples is Frank Johnson (1792–1844), an all-around “music man” who was a virtuoso bugler and flutist, a bandmaster whose organizations were in great demand for military ceremonies and public dances, and an arranger of countless tunes and composer of many others. From his home base in Philadelphia, he toured widely with his band, including travel to England (then
unprecedented for an African American ensemble), with as much success on the road as at home. Johnson was one of Philadelphia’s celebrated citizens. He accomplished a number of firsts as an African American musician: first to publish sheet music; first to tour nationally and internationally receiving wide acclaim; first to give formal band concerts that included African American and white musicians; and the first person of any race to introduce the promenade concert in America.
Other leading conductors of both social and military bands included James Hemmenway (1800–1849), Aaron Connor (d. 1850), Isaac Hazzard (1804–1865), and William Appo (1808–1887)—all originally working in Philadelphia—and Peter O’Fake (1820–1884) of Newark, New Jersey, and J.W. Postlewaite (1827–1889) of St. Louis. As styles and customs changed, especially with the appearance of ragtime, musicians such as Will Marion Cook (1869–1944) and James Reese Europe (1881–1919) inherited Johnson’s legacy in both public acceptance of their music and their anticipation of later musical trends.
Though there were free black communities in Baltimore, Maryland; Washington, D.C.; Richmond, Virginia; and Charleston, South Carolina, it was New Orleans, Louisiana, that was a musical epicenter. New Orleans was the first city to have a permanent opera company and, in the early nineteenth century, there might be up to three opera companies performing at the same time. Additionally, brass bands of well-trained musicians were particularly popular in New Orleans and are a part of the Crescent City’s musical heritage even today. As early as 1830, New Orleans was also home to a 100-member Negro Philharmonic Society. The Negro Philharmonic presented concerts that often featured visiting artists.
After the Civil War, African Americans were in a precarious situation. Ex-slaves were now free, but with no land and few worldly possessions, they were ill-equipped to advance themselves economically. They were victimized by the sharecropping system; dehumanized by the enactment of Jim Crow Laws; and terrorized by white supremacists groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Music of the recently freed slaves reflected their experiences, past and present, the challenges of urban life, and their varied emotions from joy to loneliness, and even sadness.
In 1867, Anna Madah Hyers (ca. 1855–1925), a soprano and her sister, Emma Louise Hyers (ca. 1853–189?) a contralto premiered in a joint recital in Sacramento, California, their hometown. The Hyers Sisters toured nationally from 1871 to 1876, as the critically acclaimed Hyers Sisters Concert Company. When the Hyers Sisters left the concert stage in 1876, their concert company became a comic opera troupe.
AFRICAN AMERICAN PIANISTS
African American pianists found fame in the nineteenth century, beginning with Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829–1869) of New Orleans, who became an international star as a touring pianist and produced a striking body of piano solos influenced by his African and Cuban backgrounds. “Blind Tom” Bethune (1849–1909) became famous as a virtuoso with a repertoire of thousands of pieces. He was followed by John “Blind” Boone (1864–1927) with similar abilities, who achieved equal if not greater fame as a touring recitalist. Both were child prodigies who produced descriptive showpieces that dazzled audiences. André Watts made a hugely successful debut as a premiere pianist when he was only 16 years of age as soloist with the New York Philharmonic in 1962.
Although other excellent later pianists had varying degrees of success, many of them built their primary careers as teachers in colleges and universities. Hazel Harrison (1883–1969) and Helen Hagan (1891–1964) had long teaching careers after auspicious beginnings as performers, as did Natalie Hinderas (1927–1987).
Finally, African American pianists deserving honorable mention include composer/conductor R. Nathaniel Dett (1882–1943), composer/teacher George Walker (1922– ), and Awadagin Pratt (1966– ), whom many consider to be the successor to famed performer André Watts.
AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN VOCALISTS
While men dominated instrumental music in the nineteenth century and beyond, women achieved renown with vocal music. Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield (c. 1824–1876) was known as the “Black Swan” for her fluid and graceful phrasing, while M. Sissieretta Jones (1869–1933) was called the “Black Patti,” after the famous white diva, Adelina Patti; Marie Selika Williams (ca. 1849–1937) dubbed the “Queen of Staccato” by the press gave a command performance before Queen Victoria and her royal court in 1883.
Contralto Marian Anderson (1902–1993) emerged in the twentieth century as one of its highest-achieving and most durable artists. Mid-century, sopranos Leon-tyne Price and Jessye Norman were two of dozens of outstanding African American singers who conquered recital and opera stages.
RACISM IN CLASSICAL MUSIC
During most of the nineteenth century, African American musicians performed for both black and white audiences. Toward the end of the century, however, white audiences began to favor European performers over American performers and white musicians over black. Despite their obvious success in classical music, by the beginning of the twentieth century, African Americans were not considered suitable as classical musicians, and white audiences accepted them only on the vaudeville and minstrel stage.
Whites also considered blacks to be unable to contribute to art music as composers. As an example, in response to composer Scott Joplin’s attempt to produce his opera Treemonisha in New York, the The New York Age stated on March 5, 1908, “Since ragtime has been in vogue, many Negro writers have gained considerable fame as composers of that style of music. From the white man’s standpoint of view after writing ragtime, the Negro does not figure.”
Flutist D. Antoinette Handy wrote in the preface of Black Women in American Bands and Orchestras (1981) that her book originated in the mind of a 14-year-old African American girl who decided that she wanted to be a symphony orchestra flutist. She attended a concerto by the New Orleans Philharmonic and proceeded to go backstage afterwards to see the orchestra’s first flutist. After inquiring whether the musician was accepting any pupils, she was stunned when the flutist’s response was, “Do you mean that you, a Negro, want to study flute?” This attitude unfortunately prevailed in more subtle ways toward the end of the twentieth century: a 1981 survey by the National Urban League disclosed that of the nearly 5,000 musicians playing regularly in 56 leading orchestras, only 70 were African American.
Responses to the America Symphony Orchestra League’s 2003 annual survey of its orchestra membership revealed the following statistics: Among orchestra members, three percent are African American or Latino, seven percent are Asian, and 90 percent are Caucasian. Among music directors and conductors the figures are 3.8 percent for African Americans and Latinos and over 90 percent for Caucasians. Among executive directors, less than 1.5 percent are African American or Latino and, again, over 90 percent are Caucasian. Finally, all artistic administrators are Caucasian.
To further illustrate the challenges that exist in classical music in the U.S., the American Symphony Orchestra League’s annual Orchestra Repertoire Report showed that of the 10 composers whose works were most frequently scheduled in the 2003 season, none of the composers were composers of color. A review of the top 10 most frequently performed American composers revealed that none was African American or Latino.
African Americans and other people of color are underrepresented in the professional ranks of American’s symphonies orchestras. This is a critical problem when the overall population is 25% African American/Latino and 5% Asian and increasingly darkening. Juilliard, for example has a program that invites 40 Latino and African American high school juniors from around the country to spend four days being introduced to the conservatory and what it takes to become a professional performing artist. While at the conservatory, these high school students are receiving private lessons, going to classes, getting some mentoring, and building relationships with students and faculty at Juilliard.
The Center for Black Music Research in Chicago has an International Database of Black Performers of Instrumental Concert Music who are available and have the requisite skills to audition. This is a good resource and the Charlotte Symphony and others have used the database to invite qualified players to audition.
Emphasizing diversity as a strategic goal is important in changing the complexion of classical musicians. The Chicago Symphony established goals in 1988 and placed diversity in the mission statement and the musicians’ contracts. In 2001, the CSO created a diversity committee representing all of the orchestra’s stakeholders in the community, yet it was not until 2003 that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra hired its first African American musician.
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has a Talent Development Program and even with that initiative it took nine years to produce the first full-time conservatory-bound African American graduate. In addition to the training provided through the Talent Development Program, the ASO also encourages and nurtures student musicians through its youth orchestra. Among some of the unique programs of the youth orchestra are the “bring-a-friend” program that allows other youth in the community to hear their friends play at no charge; creating opportunities for youth orchestra players and professional players to socialize with one another; and getting young people to donate to the ASO in any amount as an indication of their commitment.
The Sphinx Organization is vitally important to the goal of diversifying America’s classical scene.
The accomplishments of African Americans are all the more remarkable given the intense racism of the times. The Symphony of the New World (1965–1976) was formed by Elayne Jones and white conductor Benjamin Steinberg as the first racially integrated orchestra in the country. One of its goals was to provide valuable training and experience for instrumentalists striving to be accepted into symphony orchestras. In the 1970s, two national African American opera companies were established. Opera/South was founded in 1970 by Sister Elise, a singer and white member of the Catholic order of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and by members of the Mississippi Inter-Collegiate Opera Guild. The company staged productions of grand opera and of operas by African American composers including Highway No. 1 USA and A Bayou Legend by William Grant Still and Jubilee and The Juggler of Our Lady by Ulysses Kay. In 1973, Sister Elise was one of four founders of Opera Ebony; the other three were African American musicians Margaret Harris, Benjamin Matthews, and Wayne Sanders. These companies were effective showcases for African American talent and often provided the first opportunities for individuals to begin careers in opera. Three stage works were also responsible for starting many young artists in successful careers: Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein’s Four Saints in Three Acts premiered in 1934; Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin, first produced in 1935; and Treemonisha by Scott Joplin, first staged in 1972 in Atlanta.
AFRICAN AMERICAN SYMPHONIC MUSIC
African American composers have had increasing numbers of works performed by symphony orchestras from the 1930s and onward. African American symphonic music falls into two categories: black-stream music, synonymous with Gunther Schuller’s Third Stream, which is serious music influenced by the ethnic background of the composer; and traditional European music created by African American composers. Afro-American Symphony by William Grant Still falls into the former category and was the first symphonic work by an African American composer to be performed by a major symphony orchestra—the Rochester Philharmonic—in 1931. Florence Price was the first African American female composer to have a symphony played by a major orchestra: Symphony in E Minor by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933. A year later, Price conducted her Concerto in One Movement for piano and orchestra at the Chicago World’s Fair, with her student Margaret Bonds as soloist and the Women’s Symphony of Chicago.
In later years, composers such as George Walker, Howard Swanson, Ulysses Kay, Hale Smith, T.J. Anderson, Olly Wilson, Anthony Davis, and David Baker created a large repertoire of music based on Western European styles and forms that were informed or transformed through their racial heritage. To varying degrees, all of these composers have absorbed and expressed features common to African American music by their use of sacred and secular folk music, including the basic African call-and-response pattern, and popular or vernacular music, including spirituals, ragtime, blues, and jazz.
BEGINNINGS OF ACADEMIC RESEARCH
African American literature, music, and art were well-established as subjects of academic study by the end of the twentieth century. In music, Eileen Southern’s The Music of Black Americans: A History, published in 1971, was the first comprehensive presentation of the subject. Its subsequent revisions in 1983 and 1997 show its continuing pertinence as both a textbook and reference source. The breadth and depth of information in this volume demonstrate the great variety of African American music and of its myriad creators and practitioners.
Two precursors of this volume were James Monroe Trotter’s Music and Some Highly Musical People (1878) that presented the accomplishments of African Americans in European styles, and Maud Cuney Hare’s Negro Musicians and Their Music (1936), which was more comprehensive in the styles covered. The ever-increasing quality and quantity of research in African American music herald the development of younger scholars who can use wisely the resources available to them at the beginning of their careers and who will increase those resources steadily as they progress. Thus, a much more accurate picture of the history of American music will result.
RECENT RESEARCH ON AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSIC
In more recent years, the Center for Black Music Research was founded in 1983 by Samuel A. Floyd Jr. in Chicago. He is the author of The Power of Black Music (1995), among several other publications. Located at Columbia College, the center has as its mission “to research and promote the music of people of African descent throughout the world . . . through education, performance, publication, and scholarly discussion.” It has actively contributed to the research publications and performances of contemporary and historic compositions that they have sponsored. They also have an ever-growing library and computer database of resources used by scholars all over the country. In addition, the International Dictionary of Black Composers (1999) fills a large gap in study materials on African American music and musicians.
At the end of the twentieth century, the trend toward inclusiveness of all kinds of music in formal study—not jazz, blues, classical, or sacred music as distinct and separate artistic worlds—bodes well for a better understanding of African American music. Certainly twentieth-century African American classical composers have worked in a wide variety of styles, from the vernacular to the avant-garde. A large number of these composers are not bound to one style or another, but rather move freely among them to produce unexpected and challenging works.
(To locate biographical profiles more readily, please consult the index at the back of the book.)
MICHAEL ABELS (1962– ) Composer
Born in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1962, Michael Abels was raised on a small farm in rural South Dakota by his grandparents. As music lovers themselves, Abels’ grandparents noticed his early interest and curiosity about music and started him with piano lessons at the age of four. He graduated from high school in Phoenix, and studied music at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. At USC, Abels was named Outstanding Senior among the student composers for his composition, Queries. While at USC, Abels immersed himself in the African-American part of his biracial background. He studied African drumming and became a member of a Black Baptist Church. Subsequently, Abels collaborated with renowned gospel artist, Rev. James Cleveland, on orchestral arrangements for some of his gospel recordings. The Phoenix Symphony commissioned Abels to write arrangements for a joint project with a local Black Baptist church. This commission led to many others and Abels’ arrangements for gospel choir and orchestra are performed by orchestras throughout the United States. According to Abels, “. . . There is no more enthusiastic a group than a Black church choir. For an orchestra to share that energy, and vice versa, brings them all to another world.”
Among Abels’ best known works are Global Warming written in 1991 and Fredericks Fables composed in 1994. Global Warming contains elements of Irish and Arabic folk music reflecting Abels’ multicultural orientation. It has had over 100 performances and was released as a recording performed by Chicago Sinfonietta.
In 2001, the National Symphony Orchestra premiered Abels’ Tribute, which was inspired by the heroes of the September 1, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center. It was the first piece performed by the NSO written after those tragic events.
Dance for Martin’s Dream pays homage to Dr. Martin Luther King and was commissioned by the Nashville Symphony in 1997. It was performed in Nashville in January at the annual Let Freedom Sing Concert. According to Abels, “The work offers an array of styles, from bluegrass mountain music to the vocalized ‘beat boxing’ technique found in hip-hop which evoke the changed slogans of civil rights rallies.”
Abels was the recipient of two Meet the Composer (MTC) Residency grants. The grants support the creation of new work with an educational component. With his first grant, Abels had a three-year residency at the Watts Tower Arts Center where he not only composed music for several world premiere plays, but also began a mentoring program for disadvantaged youth in music technology and production techniques.
With the second MTC residency, Abels worked in Richmond, Virginia, with the Richmond Symphony and its youth orchestra as they prepared for a “side-by-side” performance of Global Warming. In addition to his professional career as a composer and arranger, Abels is an amateur triathlete.
ADELE ADDISON (1925– ) Singer
Born July 24, 1925, in New York City, soprano Adele Addison completed her musical training at Westminster Choir College in 1946 and studied later at the University of Massachusetts. After making her recital debut at Town Hall in New York City in 1952, she performed recital tours throughout the United States and Canada. In 1963, she toured the Soviet Union under a U.S. State Department cultural exchange program.
While primarily a recitalist, Addison has appeared with the New England, New York City, and Washington opera companies. She gave the premiere performance of John LaMontaine’s Fragments from the Song of Songs with the New Haven Symphony in 1959 and of Francis Poulenc’s Gloria with the Boston Symphony in 1961. She was also a soloist during the opening week of concerts at Lincoln Center, New York, in 1962.
BETTY LOU ALLEN (1930– ) Singer, Educator
Born on March 17, 1930, in Campbell, Ohio, Betty Allen studied at Wilberforce University and toured with Leon-tyne Price in the group the Wilberforce Sisters. She continued her musical studies at the Hartford School of Music and the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood and studied voice with Sarah Peck Moore, Paul Ulanowsky, and Zinka Milanov.
Allen made her New York debut in the Virgil Thomson-Gertrude Stein opera Four Saints in Three Acts with the New York City Opera in 1953, and made her debut at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires in 1964. She has appeared as a soloist with many leading orchestras and conductors including Leonard Bernstein, Antal Dorati, and Lorin Maazel. She held positions on the faculties of the North Carolina School of the Arts, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the Manhattan School of Music. Allen also served as the executive director and chair of the voice department at the Harlem School of the Arts in New York City.
MARIAN ANDERSON (1902–1993) Singer
Born in Philadelphia, contralto Marian Anderson was brought up in a family of church musicians and began singing publicly as a child. Her professional career began in earnest in the 1920s, but her initial New York debuts were unsuccessful. However, her victory in a performance competition with the New York Philharmonic in 1925 led to further engagements, principally in Europe, where she established her reputation as a leading concert artist. On her return to the United States, her 1935 Town Hall performance in New York won her the acclaim that she deserved.
In 1939, Howard University wished to present Anderson in recital at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. She was barred from performing there, however, by the Daughters of the American Revolution because of her race. Public reaction to this racially motivated action was immediate and intense and, through the efforts of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (who resigned from the organization in protest), Anderson was invited to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. For this memorable Easter Sunday concert, the audience was an estimated 75,000 strong.
In 1955, Anderson became the first African American artist to perform with the Metropolitan Opera Company when she sang the role of Ulrica in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera for one season. Two years later she became a goodwill ambassador for the U.S. State Department, and in 1958 she was named to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations.
As a conclusion to her lengthy career, “the world’s greatest contralto” toured the nation in a series of farewell concerts that ended on Easter Sunday of 1965 at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Anderson was not only a great singer but also a humanitarian, one who established fellowships for young singers and who toppled racial barriers for succeeding generations.
T. J. ANDERSON (1928– ) Composer, Educator
Born on August 17, 1928, in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, to educator parents, T.J. Anderson began to study piano with his mother at the age of five. He began performing with jazz groups in junior high school, which cemented his love of music. He earned a bachelor of music degree in 1950 at West Virginia State College and a master of music education degree at Pennsylvania State University the following year. He was a music instructor for a few years before pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Iowa, where he studied with Philip Bezanson and Richard Hervig and which he completed in 1958. He also studied with Darius Milhaud in the summer of 1964 at the Aspen (Colorado) School of Music. Following teaching positions at West Virginia State College, Langston and Tennessee State universities, and Morehouse College, he joined the faculty of Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, where he chaired the music department. He retired as professor emeritus in 1990.
Anderson has received over 25 commissions, beginning in 1961, for a large variety of works—instrumental solos and ensembles, chamber and full orchestra, band, dramatic music, and solo vocal and choral music. A few of his notable compositions are: Spirit Songs (commissioned by Yo Yo Ma) for cello; Transitions: A Fantasy for Ten Instruments (Berkshire Music Center, Tanglewood, and the Fromm Foundation); Squares: An Essay for Orchestra (West Virginia State College); Thomas Jefferson’s Orbiting Minstrels and Contraband: A 21st Century Celebration of 19th Century Form (for string quartet, woodwind quintet, jazz sextet, dancer, soprano, computer, visuals, keyboard synthesizer); Variations on a Theme by M.B. Tolson (soprano, instrumental ensemble); Soldier Boy, Soldier, a two-act opera (Indiana University and National Endowment for the Arts); and Walker, a one-act opera (Boston Atheneum, on a libretto by South African Derek Walcott, Nobel Prize laureate, based on the death of David Walker in 1830 in Boston).
Anderson’s deep knowledge and control of twentieth-century musical techniques and developments—including jazz, big band music, blues, and spirituals—formed his compositional style. For the 1972 premiere of Scott Joplin’s opera Treemonisha, Anderson was the orchestrator and helped in its staging. Another notable event was his conducting the first performance of the Black Music Repertory Ensemble in 1988. Among more than 30 awards and honors, he received four MacDowell Colony fellowships, in addition to honorary doctorates and composer residencies.
MARTINA ARROYO (1936– ) Singer, Educator
Martina Arroyo was born to a Puerto Rican father and an African American mother in Harlem. Although encouraged by her mother in artistic pursuits—piano, ballet, church choir—she was expected to enter a profession that could provide a more secure living than one in the arts. After attending Hunter High School, she continued at Hunter College, where she earned a degree in Romance languages in 1956. During her college years, she met the distinguished voice teacher Marinka Gurewich with
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whom Arroyo trained almost continuously until Gurewich’s death in 1990.
As many other African American artists of her generation, Arroyo did not have an easy time breaking into American operatic performance, but found success in European opera houses. In 1965, while visiting her family in New York on vacation from the Zürich Opera Company, she was called to fill in for Birgit Nilsson as Aida at the Metropolitan Opera. Her performance in this demanding Verdi role led to a contract and made her an international star virtually overnight.
Along with frequent opera appearances in the United States and abroad in the 1970s and 1980s, Arroyo had many engagements with leading orchestras, performing music ranging from Handel to Stockhausen. Arroyo officially retired from performing in 1989. Only two years later, however, she agreed to sing the leading female role, written for her by Leslie Adams in his new opera Blake, based on a nineteenth-century novel about a slave family. After retirement, Arroyo was in demand as a distinguished visiting professor. Some of the universities where she has taught are the University of California at Los Angeles, Louisiana State University, Wilberforce University, and Indiana University at Bloomington. Arroyo has also served as an honorary member of the Carnegie Hall board and a member of the board of trustees at Hunter College.
DAVID BAKER (1931– ) Composer, Instrumentalist, Educator, Author
Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Baker was educated in the public schools and Jordan Conservatory of that city. He earned bachelor (1953) and master (1954) degrees in music education at Indiana University at Bloomington and later studied at the Berklee School of Music and the Lenox School of Jazz, from which he received a diploma in 1959. Among his private composition teachers were George Russell, John Lewis, William Russo, and Gunther Schuller. He also studied trombone privately with J.J. Johnson, John Marcellus, and Bobby Brookmeyer, and cello with his Indiana colleague Janos Starker, with Jules Eskin and others.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Baker played in the bands of Maynard Ferguson, Quincy Jones, George Russell, Wes Montgomery, and Lionel Hampton. After joining the faculty of Indiana University in 1966 as chairman of the jazz department, Baker continued to perform with various groups, lecture, conduct workshops and clinics, and publish a large number of books and articles in the field of jazz.
Baker’s catalog of compositions is very large and includes over 60 commissioned works for solo and ensemble instrumental works, vocal and choral music, pieces for string, chamber, and full orchestra, dramatic music, and well over 150 works for jazz ensembles. Not surprisingly, Baker has issued over 60 books on music improvisation including Advanced Ear Training for Jazz Musicians; Advanced Improvisation (two volumes); Contemporary Techniques for the Trombone (two volumes); and Improvisational Patterns: The Bebop Era (three volumes). In the course of his very active career, he has received over 30 awards and honors. He has participated in many organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts, American Symphony Orchestra League, the National Jazz Foundation, the Afro-American Music Bicentennial, the nominating jury in music for the Pulitzer Prize, and the Smithsonian Institution.
KATHLEEN BATTLE (1948– ) Singer
In her high school and early college years, soprano Kathleen Battle, a native of Portsmouth, Ohio, had no ambition to become a professional singer. She studied voice, piano, languages, and dance as she earned her bachelor and master degrees in music education from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory. She continued studies during two years of teaching general music in an inner-city school.
An audition with Thomas Schippers, conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and co-founder of the Spoleto (Italy) Festival of Two Worlds, led to her professional debut in Brahms’s German Requiem in Spoleto. Through Schippers, Battle met James Levine in 1974, who became her friend, mentor, and counselor. She sang with many orchestras as soloist, studied opera and song literature and acting, and, in 1975, was in the Broadway company of Scott Joplin’s opera Treemonisha. Her New York City opera debut followed in 1976 as Susanna in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, and her Metropolitan Opera debut took place in 1978 as the shepherd in Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Since then she has sung a wide range of roles in opera houses throughout the world, notably in operas by Mozart, Rossini, Massenet, and Richard Strauss.
In 1994, Battle was dismissed from the Metropolitan Opera production of Donizetti’s Daughter of the Regiment, following a much-publicized dispute with management. The rift proved to be no stumbling block to her career, however, as her recordings have been very successful including the “crossover” discs, such as So Many Stars, Honey and Rue, and Angels’ Glory. In addition, she has also recorded Gershwin along with Herbie Hancock, and baroque arias with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.
THOMAS (BLIND TOM) GREENE BETHUNE (1849–1908) Pianist, Composer
“Blind Tom” was the stage name of pianist Thomas Greene, born a slave in Columbus, Georgia. The surname Bethune was the name of the family that owned him and his mother. His musical prowess manifested itself when he was four years old, and he received music lessons from Bethune family members. His remarkable skills, especially his ability to memorize pieces practically on first hearing, have caused speculation that he was autistic, an idiot savant. Tom began performing for money in public before the Civil War. Colonel John Bethune kept control of Tom and his earnings after slavery was abolished and acted, in effect, as his concert manager. His renown grew rapidly after the war, and he toured throughout the United States and in Europe to great acclaim. His immense repertoire included works by standard classical composers, such as Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin; virtuoso display pieces by Gottschalk and Liszt; improvisations on current ballads and other popular tunes; and his own works that combined elements of the virtuosic and improvisational, and often described weather or military events. The Battle of Manassas is an example of one of his most effective works of this kind, a potpourri of well-known melodies with special keyboard effects, such as tone clusters and noises made on the piano.
Tom retired in 1898, some 10 years before his death.
HAROLYN BLACKWELL (1955– ) Singer
Harolyn Blackwell is a true Washingtonian, having been born, raised, and educated in the nation’s capitol.
A fourth grade teacher introduced her to music and nurtured her by becoming Blackwell’s first piano and voice teacher. In high school, she began performing in musicals and upon graduation entered Catholic University where she pursued training in classical music and musical theater in the departments of music and drama. Following graduate school, Blackwell moved to New York to perform in the 25th anniversary Broadway revival of West Side Story.
When West Side Story closed, Blackwell applied to apprenticeship programs. She decided to go to Chicago. According to Blackwell, “. . . that was really the beginning of my operatic career. I had already done musical theater and I knew I could come back to New York to sing on Broadway, but I had to see if I really had the wherewithal and the passion to pursue this (opera).” During the apprenticeship, Blackwell represented the Chicago Midwest area in the regional auditions for the Metropolitan Opera. She was one of the finalists, and that was the first year the finalists did a full program with the Met orchestra. The Met auditions were a turning point in Blackwell’s transition to a career in opera. In large part, the Met auditions paved the way for her Met debut as Pousette in Manon in 1989. There were more opportunities to perform, and among the roles she performed were Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, Marie in The Daughter of the Regiment, Gilda in Rigoletto, and Adele in Die Fledermaus.
In 1997, Blackwell returned to Broadway as Cune-gonde in the Hal Prince revival of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide. Blackwell is a familiar performer at the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the San Francisco Opera. She is also an accomplished singer of the concert repertoire. In February 2006, Blackwell sang at the White House during a White House dinner in honor of the Dance Theater of Harlem.
MARGARET ALLISON BONDS (1913–1972) Composer, Pianist
Margaret Bonds, born in Chicago, grew up in an artistic and creative family. Her first piano teacher was her mother, a church organist. Her family’s friends consisted of many distinguished musicians and writers including Florence Price and Will Marion Cook who acted as Bonds’ mentors. As a youngster, she began to compose and when she was in her teen years, she held jobs as accompanist for nightclub acts and as a music copyist.
Bonds was one of very few African American students at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, from which she received both a bachelor and a master of music degrees by the time she was 21 years old. In the latter part of the 1930s, she founded and directed the Allied Arts Academy, which closed in 1939 because of financial difficulties. She moved to New York City, where she resumed study at the Juilliard School of Music, and was active as both solo and duo pianist and accompanist, gave lecture demonstrations, and was involved in many professional and community organizations.
Bonds’ compositions reflect jazz influence, as well as spirituals and the blues, and she gained a thorough mastery of the techniques of Western music. The greater portion of her music is vocal and choral, but there are many piano solos and dramatic works as well including The Ballad of the Brown King (1954) and Shakespeare in Harlem (1959), a play by Langston Hughes.
In 1967, Bonds moved again, this time to Los Angeles where she taught piano and worked with the Inner City Cultural Center and Repertory Theater. Written and premiered in 1972, her Credo—dedicated to the memories of soprano Abbie Mitchell and Langston Hughes—was performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and conducted by Zubin Mehta shortly after her sudden death.
JOHN WILLIAM “BLIND” BOONE (1864–1927) Pianist, Composer
Born 15 years later than “Blind Tom” Bethune, “Blind” Boone’s upbringing and education were considerably different from his predecessor’s, although their careers were very similar. Both had tremendous skill at the keyboard and very large repertoires at their fingertips, and they both toured extensively for many years. Boone, however, had more formal training, and received support from the citizens of Warrensburg, Missouri, who raised money for him to study at the Institute for the Education of the Blind in St. Louis (later, St. Louis School for the Blind). After less than three years of piano lessons at the school, Boone left in order to begin a career in music.
There were several lean years before Boone met John Lange, a Missouri businessman and entrepreneur who set up the Blind Boone Concert Company, a partnership that provided for the pianist and a stipend for his mother. A typical Boone program, following the pattern of Bethune’s, included classical works from Bach to Brahms, his own arrangements of popular ballads and dance tunes, descriptive and concert pieces, and, on occasion, improvisations. Boone, unlike Bethune, performed and wrote ragtime pieces as well. His familiarity with this newly popular music went back to his days as a student in St. Louis.
With Lange’s death in 1916, the fortunes of the company declined and, with burgeoning new entertainment media and an apparent increase in racism, so did performing engagements. Nevertheless, Boone continued his partner’s practice of benefiting communities and organizations of African Americans with concert revenues. Boone’s “farewell concerts” began in the early 1920s, but his final concert was given shortly before his death in 1927.
GWENDOLYN BRADLEY (1952– ) Singer
Soprano Gwendolyn Bradley was born in New York City, but grew up in Bishopville, South Carolina. She was a finalist in the 1977 Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions and a graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts. She also attended the Curtis Institute of Music and the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia and studied with Margaret Harshaw and Seth McCoy.
Bradley made her professional operatic debut in 1976 with the Lake George (New York) Opera Festival as Nanetta in Verdi’s Falstaff. Other companies with which she has appeared include Central City Opera (Colorado), Opera/South, and the Opera Company of Philadelphia. Her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1981 was in the Met’s first production of Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges. She has been a soloist with several orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Kansas City Philharmonic, the Charleston Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Seattle Symphony.
CAROL BRICE (1918–1985) Singer
Born into a music family in Sedalia, North Carolina, Carol Brice was one of the African American classical singers to record extensively. She won a Grammy for her recording as Maria in Porgy and Bess. She was also the first African American to win the prestigious Naumburg Award in 1943 for classical musicians in North America.
Brice, a contralto, was educated at the historic Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia and earned her bachelor of music degree from Talladega College in Alabama in 1939 and pursued further training at the Juilliard School of Music from 1939 to 1943.
During her early days at Juilliard, Brice attracted much acclaim singing The Hot Mikado at the New York World’s Fair with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Brice was selected to sing at a concert for President Roosevelt’s third inauguration in 1941. She had numerous stage roles to her credit including Maria in Porgy and Bess, Queenie in Showboat, and Maude in Finian’s Rainbow. From 1967 to 1971, she was a member of the Vienna Volksoper.
In 1974, Brice along with her husband, Baritone Thomas Carey, accepted positions as professors of voice at the University of Oklahoma. Together, they founded the Cimarron Circuit Opera Company (CCOC) to provide Oklahoma’s aspiring young singers a forum for their talents; opportunities to gain solid stage experience and training beyond the classroom; and also to enhance the social and cultural life in the state by bringing the joy of operatic and concert performances to all Oklahomans in a shared community experience.
ANGELA BROWN (c. 1964– ) Singer
Born in Indianapolis, Brown grew up singing gospel music at Mount Calvary Baptist Church, where her grandfather was pastor, and performing in local talent shows. It was her aspiration to become a singing evangelist. She went to vocational school and completed secretarial training. Later, she entered Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, on a music scholarship. Her incredible natural singing talents were recognized and her Oakwood professor Ginger Beazley arranged an audition at the Indiana University School of Music. She was admitted and studied in the early 1990s at the School of Music with distinguished professor Virginia Zeani. At Indiana University, Brown also sang with the African American Choral Ensemble and served as the vocal coach from 1991 to 1997 for the IU Soul Revue, a group of singers and musicians that performs traditional rhythm ands blues, soul, funk, and contemporary black popular music. Brown made her first recording of songs and arias while at IU and sold it from the trunk of her car.
The road from her grandfather’s church to center stage at the Metropolitan Opera was long and arduous. She entered the regional Metropolitan Opera National audition three times before advancing to New York and winning there on her fourth try at 33, the competition’s cutoff age for women at that time.
Brown captured the attention of the opera world as “one of America’s most promising Verdi sopranos,” according to Opera News, with her stellar debut performance in the title role of Aida with the New York Metropolitan Opera in 2004. Brown’s appearance at the Met was as a substitute. Similarly, Brown was called to replace soprano Jessye Norman in the world premiere of the Michigan Opera Theatre’s Margaret Garner with music by Richard Danielpour and libretto by Toni Morrison.
In 1997, Brown had the idea to begin performing concerts of classical music to the community in a new way. In 2002, Brown broadened the repertoire and the ensemble to include soprano Kishna Davis and pianist Victor Simonson to produce Opera From a Sistah’s Point of View. Recently, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. honored Brown and Davis “for their extraordinary talent
and work in broadening the musical exposure of audiences to include classical music and opera performed by African American artists.”
GRACE ANN BUMBRY (1937– ) Singer
A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Grace Bumbry was the first African American to perform in Bayreuth, Germany, the shrine of Richard Wagner. She had the role of Venus in Tannhäuser in 1961 and sang to great acclaim. She had appeared in the operatic capitals of Europe, so the Bayreuth debut served as a boost to a career that was already flourishing. She made her American operatic debut in this role as well at the Chicago Lyric Opera in 1963.
As a teenager, Bumbry had won a scholarship to the St. Louis Institute in a competition, but the segregationist policy of that school kept her out. Later, however, she attended Boston University, Northwestern University, and the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California, where her primary teacher was the renowned Lotte Lehmann. She also studied with Pierre Bernac.
Fairly early in her career, Bumbry gradually shifted from mezzo soprano to soprano roles, in which she achieved as much success as in the lower voice range. Among them were Lady Macbeth (Macbeth, Verdi), Leonora (in both Il Trovatore and La Forza del Destino, Verdi), Salome (R. Strauss), Tosca (Puccini), and La Gioconda (Ponchielli). She has sung both Amneris and Aida—mezzo and soprano—in Verdi’s Aida. Virtuoso soprano roles that became part of her repertoire in the 1970s and 1980s are Abigaille (Nabucco, Verdi) and Norma (Bellini).
HENRY THACKER (HARRY) BURLEIGH (1866–1949) Singer, Composer, Arranger, Editor
Born in 1866, baritone Harry Burleigh did not leave his hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, for formal music study until 1892. He went to New York to study at the National Conservatory of Music from 1892 to 1896, which was then headed by composer Antonin Dvorak. Dvorak encouraged his students to use folk music and spirituals as the source of their art, which had a decisive influence on Burleigh’s musical beliefs and practices. His vocal prowess gained him the position of soloist with a wealthy Episcopal church—where he remained for 50 years—and in the chorus of a synagogue for 25 years, both in New York City. Beginning in 1911, he was also an editor for the Ricordi Publishing Company until 1946.
Besides his lifelong association with sacred music, Burleigh was involved with Broadway musical shows, and he also toured widely as a recitalist including trips to Europe and England. He was a private teacher of voice, music theory, and composition.
As a composer and arranger, Burleigh was the first to arrange spirituals in the style of art songs with the use of chromatic embellishments and nineteenth century romantic harmonic practice. Arrangements were also made for chorus, which were very popular, as were his original art songs that were widely programmed by leading singers of the day. He did not compose in large forms or dramatic music, and his only instrumental works are suites, one each for piano and for violin and piano. A charter member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Burleigh was awarded honorary degrees by Atlanta and Howard universities.
FRANCES ELAINE COLE (1937–1983) Violinist, Harpsichordist
Frances Cole studied violin at the Cleveland Institute of Music and at Miami University in Ohio, where she was concertmaster of the orchestra. She earned a doctorate at Teachers College of Columbia University, New York, in 1966, and during her years of study played for the National Orchestral Association. As she was finishing her doctorate, she discovered her interest in the harpsichord and began to study the instrument at the Land-owska Center in Connecticut. In 1967, she became resident harpsichordist with the Gallery Players in Provincetown, Massachusetts, appeared on national television programs, and began touring throughout the United States and Europe.
Cole was as well known for her humor and innovation as for her elegant musical interpretations. In 1976, for example, she arrived dressed as Anna Magdalena Bach in a horse-drawn carriage for an outdoor concert at Lincoln Center in New York City. She played jazz in a trio and was a cabaret singer under the name of Elaine Frances. She also served on the music faculties of Queens College and the Westminster Choir College and presented workshops at many colleges and universities.
WILL MARION COOK (1869–1944) Composer, Violinist, Conductor
Will Cook’s earliest musical activities focused on the violin and Western concert music. At the age of 15, he left his hometown of Washington, D.C., to study at the Oberlin (Ohio) Conservatory and after four years there he traveled to Berlin, Germany, for study with the renowned master violinist Joseph Joachim. A few years after his return to Washington, Cook left for New York, where he studied at the National Conservatory of Music with its director Antonin Dvorak and John White, a virtuoso violinist.
Dissatisfied with the course of his career, which he attributed partly to racial discrimination, Cook took advantage of an opportunity to conduct a newly formed orchestra in Washington. Soon thereafter, he began to work in the musical theater of New York City with collaborators such as singer Bob Cole, vaudevillians George Walker and Bert Williams, and the writer Paul Laurence Dunbar. Cook was part of some theatrical firsts: the first all-African American musical comedy on Broadway, Clorindy,or The Origin of the Cakewalk with Dunbar, a ragtime operetta that introduced syncopation to the Broadway musical, and in Dahomey, with Williams and Walker, written and performed by African Americans for presentation on Broadway and, subsequently, also the first such show presented in London at Buckingham Palace.
Cook was the composer or co-composer of 17 musical shows in addition to songs that he wrote apart from shows. However, there are only a few piano pieces and no works for violin. Among the several younger musicians to whom he was mentor were Margaret Bonds, Duke Ellington, and Eva Jessye.
ROQUE CORDERO (1917– ) Composer, Educator
Roque Cordero studied clarinet and string instruments as a child growing up in Panama, and he began to write popular songs at an early age before beginning to study composition formally when he was 17. In 1943, he came to the United States to study composition with Ernest Krenek at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and conducting with Dmitri Mitropoulos at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis. He graduated from the latter magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in arts. Back in his native country, he served on the faculty of the National Institute of Music of Panama, serving as director from 1953 to 1964. He returned to the United States to become assistant director of the Latin American Music Center at Indiana University, Bloomington beginning in
1966. From 1972 to 1987, when he retired, he was professor of music at Illinois State University at Normal.
Cordero has written a large number of solo and ensemble instrumental works and several for orchestra including the prize-winning Second Symphony and Violin Concerto. His style blends elements of Panamanian vernacular music with more formal Western European practices including serialism and polytonality. A balance of these two major aesthetic components is the predominant trait of his musical language.
Among many honors and awards that Cordero has received are a Guggenheim Fellowship, an honorary professorship at the University of Chile, an honorary doctorate from Hamline University, and a Koussevitzky International Recording Award. His commissions, numbering over 20, have come from several countries in South America and prestigious institutions in the United States including the National Endowment for the Arts and the Kennedy Center.
ANTHONY CURTIS DAVIS (1951– ) Composer, Pianist, Educator
Anthony Davis’ father was the first African American professor at Princeton University and was later chair of the Afro-American studies department at Yale University. Born in Paterson, New Jersey, the young Davis grew up in a cultural environment in which he was encouraged to be creative. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Yale in 1975; later, he returned to teach in the early 1980s and early 1990s. He has also been a visiting professor or lecturer at Harvard, Cornell, and Northwestern universities, and at the University of California at San Diego. In 1996, Davis was honored with an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Music.
Davis, who had studied piano in his teen years, began to play jazz with different groups while at Yale, and after moving to New York City, quickly developed a reputation as an advanced player and highly proficient improviser. Finally, he founded his own group, Episteme, (which means “knowledge”) so that he could work out his compositional ideas. Experience with this group caused him to focus on composition as his primary activity, rather than improvisation. He has written in many media including jazz ensembles, opera, instrumental solos and ensembles to orchestra, and voice to chorus.
By the end of the 1990s, Davis had received over 20 commissions from symphonies, opera, and dance companies, choral groups, and other organizations. Three of his four operas are based on real characters and events: Amistad, 1997, for the Lyric Opera of Chicago (about a slave revolt aboard a ship and its aftermath); Tania, 1992, for the American Music Theater Festival (based on the Patty Hearst kidnapping); and X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, 1986, for the Kitchen Center. About X, perhaps the work that has made the biggest impact, critic Andrew Porter praised the “constantly impressive” score and believed that “. . . an ‘ordinary’ opera goer will be able to respond readily to the music.” Davis himself stated, “I hope it will open a door for others to create large works and then realize that this separateness in American culture is just a by-product of race, not a byproduct of the art. It’s important for me that what I do helps the next generation of musicians.”
MARY CARDWELL DAWSON (1894–1962) Opera Director
Born in Meridian, North Carolina, Dawson moved with her family to Pittsburgh as a child, where her musical talent was nurtured. After graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music and Chicago Musical College, she was active in the musical life of Pittsburgh in the late 1920s and 1930s. In 1927, she founded the Cardwell School of Music where she gave private voice lessons. She also founded the award-winning Cardwell Dawson Choir, which competed successfully, and made appearances at Chicago’s Century of Progress Exhibition and at the New York World’s Fair. From 1939 to 1941, Dawson served as president of the National Association of Negro Musicians (NANM).
After successfully presenting Verdi’s Aida at the NANM convention in 1941 as well as her work with the Negro Opera Guild, she founded the National Negro Opera Company (NNOC) in Pittsburgh later that same year. Dawson was concerned that discrimination prevented her talented students and other black artists from having professional opportunities in opera in the United States.
The mission of NNOC was to provide an outlet for aspiring opera singers; to inspire young artists to study the classics and to enter the opera profession; and to stage productions of operas that would provide employment and performance opportunities for African American singers and musicians. In the late 1940s, Dawson relocated to Washington, D.C., which became the new center of NNOC operations. There were active chapters in Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Pittsburgh, and Red Bank, NJ. In 1950, the National Negro Opera Foundation (NNOF) was incorporated to help raise funds to sustain the NNOC. For more than two decades, in spite of financial challenges, from 1941 until Dawson’s death in 1962, the National Negro Opera Company produced major operas including Faust, La Traviata, Aida, and Clarence Cameron White’s Ouanga. R. Nathaniel Dett’s oratorio, The Ordering of Moses, was performed by the NNOC more frequently than any other work.
WILLIAM LEVI DAWSON (1899–1990) Composer, Conductor, Educator
Born in Anniston, Alabama, William Dawson became a student at the age of 15 in the Tuskegee Institute, founded by Booker T. Washington. His studies included piano, composition, and trombone. He moved to Kansas City, Kansas, to teach music in high school, and he excelled as a jazz trombonist during his years there. He was also able to earn a bachelor of music degree at the Horner Institute of Fine Arts in 1925.
In 1926, Dawson moved to Chicago, where he continued to play in jazz ensembles (including Jimmy Noone’s Apex Orchestra and the Fourteen Doctors of Syncopation) and to study composition at the American Conservatory of Music and the Chicago Musical College. He received a master of music degree in 1927 from the conservatory. By this time, he was publishing arrangements of spirituals and conducting a large church choir. Dawson was invited to Tuskegee to head the Institute’s School of Music in 1931 and remained there until retirement in 1955. During his tenure, he strengthened the music curriculum and built the Institute Choir into an organization nationally recognized as outstanding. After his retirement, he remained active as a guest conductor in the United States and abroad.
Dawson’s most famous work is the Negro Folk Symphony, premiered in 1934 by the Philadelphia Orchestra and conducted by Leopold Stokowski. It was the first symphony by an African American composer to be premiered by a major U.S. symphony orchestra. It was revised in 1952 after Dawson visited West Africa, where he studied African rhythms and their influence on African American music. His arrangements of spirituals have been staples of the choral repertoire, as have some of his original works. A statement about the symphony made by Dawson is a good short description of the goals of “nationalist” composers: his goal was “to write a symphony in the Negro folk idiom, based on authentic folk music but in the same symphonic form used by the composers of the (European) romantic-nationalist school.”
JAMES ANDERSON DEPRIEST (1936– ) Conductor
Born in Philadelphia, James DePriest studied piano and percussion from the age of 10, but he did not decide on a musical career until he reached his early 20s. After finishing high school, he entered the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and received a bachelor of science degree in 1958 and a master of arts degree in 1961. He also studied music history and theory and orchestration at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music and composition with Vincent Persichetti.
In 1962, DePriest was engaged as an American specialist in music for a U.S. State Department cultural exchange tour of the Near and Far East. During this tour, he was stricken with polio and paralyzed in both legs. Within six months of intensive therapy, he had fought his way to the point of being able to walk with the aid of crutches and braces. Courage, determination, and talent carried him to the semifinals of the 1963 Dmitri Mitropoulos International Music Competition for Conductors. After another overseas tour, this time as conductor in Thailand, he returned to the United States and conducted several American orchestras including the Philadelphia and the New York Philharmonic. In 1964, he captured first prize in the Mitropoulos Competition. Another career highlight occurred on June 28, 1965, when he conducted his Aunt Marian Anderson’s farewell concert in Philadelphia at Robin Hood Dell.
DePriest has been the music director of the Oregon Symphony and has been a guest conductor in most of the capitals of the United States and Europe.
ROBERT NATHANIEL DETT (1882–1943) Composer, Arranger, Conductor, Pianist
Born in Canada of musical parents, a Canadian mother and an American father, in Drummondville, Ontario, Dett studied the piano and played in church from an early age. In 1893, his family moved from Canada to Niagara Falls, New York, where he began playing in public in his
teen years. After two years of study at a music conservatory in nearby Lockport, he moved to Oberlin, Ohio, in 1903 for baccalaureate studies at the Oberlin Conservatory, where he also began his career as a choral conductor. He received his bachelor of music degree in 1908.
Dett held teaching positions, after graduation, at Lane College (Jackson, Tennessee), Lincoln Institute (Jefferson City, Missouri), and Hampton Institute (Hampton, Virginia) from 1913 to 1932. He raised the standards of the Institute’s choir, not only in excellence of performance but also in establishing the spiritual—in arrangements and as the source of original works—as part of the basic choral repertoire. After an unfortunate disagreement with the administration, he moved to Rochester, New York, and earned a master’s degree at the Eastman School of Music in 1932. One of his composition teachers there was the school’s director, Howard Hanson. After a few more years in Rochester, where he was busy as a choir director and composer, he took a position at Bennett College in North Carolina. In 1943, he directed the Women’s Army Corps chorus of the United Services Organization, but his life was cut short in October of that year by a fatal heart attack, nine days before his 61st birthday.
Dett’s many choral works include collections of Negro spirituals and large-scale dramatic compositions, notably Chariot Jubilee (1919) and The Ordering of Moses: Biblical Folk Scenes, an oratorio (1932, his master’s thesis). There are also several works for piano, including: Cinnamon Grove Suite, Enchantment, In the Bottoms, and Magnolia.
Dett gave very specific prefaces to several of his scores, many of which were definitely of “that class of music known as ‘program music’ or ‘music with a poetic basis.”’ Throughout his life, he actively supported African American folk music through his writings, arrangements, conducting, and study. For his essay Negro Music (1920), he received the Bowdoin Literary Prize from Harvard University. He was a founder of the National Association of Negro Musicians in 1919 and served as its president from 1924 to 1926. Howard University and the Oberlin Conservatory both awarded him honorary doctorates.
CARL ROSSINI DITON (1886–1962) Pianist, Singer, Composer
Carl Diton first learned piano from his father, a professional musician. He studied at the University of Pennsylvania and received his bachelor’s degree in 1909. Following graduation, he went on to become the first African American pianist to make a cross-country concert tour. He furthered his piano studies in Munich, Germany, with the aid of an E. Azalia Hackley scholarship. In the 1920s, he began voice study and made his concert debut in Philadelphia in 1926. He continued to study voice at the Juilliard School, New York City, where he was awarded an artist’s diploma in 1930.
Teaching began to take up more of his time, although he continued to perform. He also began to compose and received several awards including the Harmon Award. Most of his works are art songs and arrangements of spirituals. He was a founding member of the National Association of Negro Musicians in 1919, which has been a source of much support for young musicians through grants and scholarships and has also honored distinguished musicians of all kinds.
DEAN DIXON (1915–1976) Conductor
Born in Manhattan in 1915, Dean Dixon was exposed to classical music by his parents, who often took him to Carnegie Hall. While he was still in high school, he formed his own amateur orchestra at the Harlem YMCA, which soon grew to 70 members and gave regular concerts. He was admitted to the Juilliard School of Music on the basis of a violin audition, and he was awarded the bachelor’s degree in 1936. Three years later, he earned a master’s degree from the Teachers College of Columbia University.
Dixon’s Symphony Society, founded in 1932, received community support, and in 1941, Eleanor Roosevelt was instrumental in setting up a concert that eventually led to his becoming the music director of NBC radio network’s summer symphony. Shortly thereafter, he made his debut with the New York Philharmonic, the first African American to conduct that orchestra.
However, Dixon was unable to find a position as music director with an American orchestra, so he went to Europe, where he worked with several orchestras in Sweden and Germany, and to Australia for the Sydney Symphony. After his return to the United States in 1970, he was a frequent guest conductor and left a recorded legacy estimated at 20 discs at the time of his death in 1976.
MATTIWILDA DOBBS (1925– ) Singer
Mattiwilda Dobbs graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, her hometown, as valedictorian of her class in 1946. She majored in voice and studied at Columbia University Teachers College, where she earned a master’s degree. She studied voice privately with Lotte Leonard in New York and, in Paris with Pierre Bernac on a Whitney Fellowship. Soprano Dobbs won the International Music Competition held in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1951 and later was the first African American to sing a principal role at La Scala in Milan, Italy.
In 1955, Dobbs made her American operatic debut in the lead in the San Francisco Opera’s The Golden Cockerel, becoming the first African American to play a major role in that company. This career achievement was followed by her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in Rigoletto—only the third African American to sing on that stage and the first to sing a romantic lead. Her successful showings in American opera companies led to an even greater international fame as she toured all over the world, including the Soviet Union, where she was the first Met artist to appear at the Bolshoi. At the peak of her career, her active repertoire included more than 200 concert pieces and 20 operatic roles.
In 1974, Dobbs served as artist-in-residence at Spelman College and has likewise taught at Howard University since the 1970s. She was elected to the board of directors of the Metropolitan Opera in 1989.
ROBERT TODD DUNCAN (1903–1998) Singer, Actor, Educator
Baritone Todd Duncan’s mother, herself a musician, encouraged him in his ambition to become an opera singer. He was raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, and graduated with a bachelor of music degree from Butler University. He attended Columbia University Teachers College in New York, where he received a master’s degree in music. After teaching briefly in a high school, he began college teaching and was on the music faculty of Howard University for some 15 years, where he also served as department head. He retired from Howard in 1945 as the time demands of his operatic and concert career increased. He was a very successful concert singer with over 2,000 performances in 56 countries. Duncan’s performance in an all-African American, New York City production of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana in 1934 led to his being chosen by George Gershwin to sing the lead role of Porgy in the premiere of his opera Porgy and Bess. Duncan also starred in two later revivals. He continued to be active as a concert singer and theatrical performer, and, in the New York City Opera’s 1945–1946 season, he became the first African American member of the company with roles in I Pagliacci, Aida,and Carmen. However, he was never invited to sing at the Metropolitan Opera, which would have been the realization of his dream as a singer.
Besides work in films, Duncan appeared in some outstanding Broadway shows including Cabin in the Sky, Show Boat, and Weill’s Lost in the Stars, in which he created the role of Stephen Kumalo and for which he received both the New York Drama Critics and Tony Awards in 1950. He retired from public performance in 1967, but continued to teach privately in Washington, D.C., for many years. Educational institutions with which he was associated during this period are Howard University and the Curtis Institute of Music. Both Valparaiso and Butler universities awarded him honorary doctorates.
LESLIE B. DUNNER (1956– ) Conductor, Clarinetist, Composer
Born in New York City on January 5, 1956, Leslie Byron Dunner graduated from Manhattan’s High School of Music and Art in 1974. He earned a bachelor’s degree in clarinet performance from the Eastman School of Music (1978) and continued study at Queen’s College (New York) for a master’s degree in music theory and musicology (1979). He received a doctorate in orchestra conducting and clarinet performance from the College-Conservatory of Music of the University of Cincinnati (1982).
Dunner’s honors include the 1994 American Symphony Orchestra League Award and the NAACP’s James Weldon Johnson Award in 1991. Dunner’s third prize in 1986 at the Arturo Toscanini International Conducting Competition made him the first American to place at this prestigious event. He was also a semi-finalist in the Herbert von Karajan International Conducting Competition.
Posts held by Dunner include seven seasons with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as resident conductor, and
music director of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra in Maryland from December 1998 until mid-2003, after which he became the principal director of the Joffree Ballet in Chicago. He has also served as music director of Symphony Nova Scotia in Halifax, guest conductor with the Warsaw Philharmonic for its tour of South Africa, and guest conductor for the New York City Ballet.
In the late 1980s, Dunner began to work with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and had earlier served with the Pacific Northwest Ballet Company as assistant conductor. He has made appearances with many orchestras as guest conductor and has had the opportunity to work with some of the century’s greatest conductors.
Dunner performs as a freelance clarinetist, and several of his compositions have been recorded, including his Short Rhapsody for Clarinet.
AARON PAUL DWORKIN (1970– ) Violinist, Music Educator
Aaron Dworkin is a uniquely gifted violinist, charismatic music educator, and the founding President of the Detroit-based Sphinx Organization. As a tribute to his musical genius and his personal and professional commitment to expand access for minorities to careers in classical music, Dworkin was named a MacArthur Fellow in music education in September 2005.
Dworkin was born on September 11, 1970, in Monticello, but grew up in New York City. At the age of five, he began playing the violin. At the age of 10, his family moved to Hershey, Pennsylvania. Dworkin has described himself, “As a biracial kid growing up as a black man in America, adopted when I was two weeks old by white parents, I am, at my spiritual, emotional, intellectual and biological care, the embodiment of diversity.” Given his background and life experiences, Dworkin has experienced the power of the arts to bridge racial and cultural divides.
A graduate of the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, Dworkin received his Bachelor’s of Music (1997) and his Master’s of Music (1998) in Violin Performance from the University of Michigan. He plays both acoustic and electric violin.
In 1996, while still a student at the University of Michigan, Dworkin responded proactively to the reality that he was frequently the only African American in his classes or more often than not, the sole person of color in the audience at classical performances by founding The Sphinx Organization. The Sphinx Organization is a national non-profit group with a mission “to overcome the cultural stereotype of classical music and to address the isolation and limited access that young Blacks and Latinos face in the classical music world.” The Sphinx Organization initiated an annual national competition for African-American and Latino string players. The program has grown rapidly and now includes a first-rate orchestra comprised of African American and Latino musicians; a summer training program for disadvantaged string players; music education and outreach programs in Detroit public schools; scholarship for talented musicians to pursue advanced training; and an instrument fund for players who cannot afford them. Each year, programs of The Sphinx Organization present classical music and the classical music profession to more than 20,000 African American and Latino students in 100 urban schools.
In addition to his 2005 MacArthur Fellowship, Dworkin and The Sphinx Organization also were awarded one of eight 2005 National Governors’ Awards, for Distinguished Service to State Government, in the category of Artistic Production.
RUBY ELZY (1908–1943) Singer
Ruby Elzy is perhaps best known for her role as Serena, the second female lead of the opera Porgy and Bess. Gershwin himself cast her for the part in 1934 while still writing the opera.
Born in Pontotoc, Mississippi, on February 20, 1908, Elzy’s early life centered around her family, the local Methodist church, and getting an education, which was not easy in the segregated South. When she completed the fifth grade at the one-room Pontotoc Colored School, there were no other educational opportunities available. Undaunted, her mother prevailed upon the officials at Rust College in Holly Springs, some 60 miles away, to admit her gifted 11-year-old daughter on a work scholarship.
In 1926, Elzy graduated from Rust’s high school and was admitted to the college’s bachelor’s program. While at Rust, Elzy was discovered by Dr. Charles McCracken of Ohio State University. In September 1926, Elzy entered Ohio State as a sophomore and studied voice. While a student, Elzy lived with the McCrackens who provided room and board in exchange for helping with the housework.
Though not a racial panacea, Columbus provided many more opportunities and less overt discrimination than Mississippi. In 1929, Elzy, along with 16 other sopranos, was selected to sing with the Cleveland Orchestra in the premiere of Ernest Bloch’s tone poem, America. There were 3,000 in the audience for the premiere. Shortly afterward, she had her radio debut, singing three solos with the University Chorus. In May 1929, Elzy became the first Ohio State student to perform in a solo public concert. Following graduation in 1930 with a B.S. in Education and a first place ranking from the Music Department, Elzy returned to Mississippi to teach music at Rust College.
That career was short-lived when, through Dr. McCracken’s efforts and Elzy’s talents, she was awarded a Rosenwalk Fellowship, which made it possible for her to audition and be accepted at The Juilliard School of Music. Ruby had many successes and considerable exposure in New York. She was a paid member of the J. Rosamond Johnson Choir. Elzy made her Broadway debut in 1930 in the all-black musical comedy, Brown Buddies. It was 1931 when Elzy made her network radio appearance with J. Rosamond Johnson on the NBC program, Parade of States. In 1934, Elzy graduated from the Juilliard School with a graduate diploma in voice and her celebrated career as Serena began. Elzy played Serena in more than 700 performances throughout her career.
Over the next few years, Elzy traveled nationally performing everywhere from concert halls and nightclubs to the White House along with a Town Hall solo debut. In 1943 Elzy died during a routine surgery for a benign tumor.
LILLIAN EVANS EVANTI (1890–1967) Singer
Born in Washington, D.C., on August 12, 1890, Lillian Evans, a lyric soprano, was the first African American to receive international recognition singing opera with an organized company in Europe.
Evans attended Armstrong Manual Training School, Miner Teachers’ College, and graduate from the Howard University School of Music in 1917. After graduation, she taught in the D.C. public schools, married Roy Tibbs, an organist and professor of music at Howard, and performed as a concert artist. She left for Europe to study acting and to take voice lessons in Italy and France, but also to have professional opportunities that did not exist for African American opera singers in the United States at that time. While in Europe, Evans adopted the stage name Madame Lillian Evanti, a combination of her family name, Evans, and her husband’s name, Tibbs.
Evanti took the title role in Delibe’s Lakme at the Casino Theater in Nice, France, in 1925. She repeated her performance at the Trianon Lyrique in Paris. After five years in Europe, Evanti continued her professional operatic and concert career in the United States. In 1932, Evanti made her Town Hall debut and gave recitals throughout America, Europe, and the Caribbean. In 1934, she was invited by President Franklin and Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt to sing at the White House. In 1943, Evanti received wide acclaim for her performance as Violetta in Verdi’s LaTraviata in the production staged by Mary Cardwell Dawson’s National Negro Opera Company in Washington, D.C. This NNOC 1943 production of La Traviata was performed on the floating Watergate Theater barge on the Potomac River.
Madame Evanti began collecting art for her Washington D.C. residence in the 1920s. Several years after her death in 1967, her grandson Thurlow Tibbs, Jr., an art collector, founded and operated an art gallery, the Evans-Tibbs Collection, which grew to over 500 paintings drawings, sketches, and sculptures, and 6,000 books. When Thurlow Tibbs died in 1997, he bequeathed the collection to the Corcoran Gallery of Art. In 1987, the Evans-Tibbs house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
SIMON ESTES (1938– ) Singer
Born on February 2, 1938, in Centerville, Iowa, Simon Lamont Estes is the grandson of a slave and the son of a coal miner. An athletic scholarship to the University of Iowa provided him with the opportunity to study voice with Charles Kellis. Estes received a full scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music, New York City, where he studied with Sergius Kagen and Christopher West. In 1964, he received grants that allowed him to travel to Germany, where he was soon given a contract with the Deutsche Opera in West Berlin. Bass-baritone Estes recounted the circumstances of his debut as Ramfis in Verdi’s Aida in April of 1965: “I didn’t have any rehearsal. It was the first time, literally, I had ever been on a stage. I didn’t meet the conductor until the curtain
parted and I saw him on the podium.” Other roles followed, and in 1966 he won the silver medal in the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. His European career developed rapidly, appearing with the opera companies of Vienna, Munich, Hamburg, Paris, Milan, and Florence. In 1978, Wolfgang Wagner invited him to appear at Bayreuth in the title role of The Flying Dutchman, and Estes became the first African American male singer to sing at the shrine of Richard Wagner.
Estes had been singing with various American opera companies, with performances in San Francisco, Boston, and Chicago, and he had a leading role with the Hamburg State Opera in its production of Gunther Schuller’s The Visitation that played at the Metropolitan Opera House. His debut with the Met company, however, did not take place until 1982, in the role of the Landgrave in Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Two seasons later, he played Porgy in the Met’s first production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.
Besides singing in opera houses in Europe and America, Estes has been a busy recitalist from the time of his concert debut in 1980 at Carnegie Hall. Among recordings of major works that he has made are Beet-hoven’s Symphony No. 9, Handel’s Messiah, Fauré’s Requiem, and The Flying Dutchman. He has also recorded spirituals and highlights from Porgy and Bess.
Estes has received numerous awards including the Tchaikovsky Medal in 1985 and the Iowa Award of Achievement in 1996.
JAMES REESE EUROPE. SEEBLUES & JAZZ CHAPTER.
LOUIS MOREAU GOTTSCHALK (1829–1869) Composer, Pianist
Louis Gottschalk was a native of New Orleans who was a violin prodigy around the age of six. Switching instruments,
he soon became an outstanding pianist and studied in Europe with leading teachers when he was in his teen years. In his mid-twenties, he made his New York City debut, having already established a brilliant reputation in Europe. He toured internationally with great success for the rest of his short life.
Gottchalk’s compositions for piano reflect the Creole environment of his childhood, and several of them are based in African American- and Cuban-inspired folk music including Le Bananier and Bamboula. He also wrote characteristic salon pieces. His autobiographical Notes of a Pianist provides information about his life, methods of composing, the people he knew, and the places he visited.
DENYCE GRAVES (1965– ) Singer
A native of Washington, D.C., mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves was a student at the Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts in that city. In 1981, she began study with Helen Hodam at the Oberlin College Conservatory (Ohio) and transferred to the New England Conservatory of Music (Boston) in 1984. She received
a bachelor of music degree and artist diploma in 1988 and later joined the Houston (Texas) Grand Opera Studio of the University of Houston, where she worked with Elena Nikolaidi.
Some of the prizes Graves won early in her career include awards from the Richard Tucker Music Foundation, Opera Columbus Vocal Competition (the Eleanor Steber Award), the Marian Anderson Award presented by her to Graves in 1991, the Grand Prix Lyrique given once every three years by the Friends of Monte Carlo Opera, and George London and Metropolitan Opera career study grants.
In the 1990s, Graves’ career as opera and recital singer and orchestra soloist flourished. She has sung the title role in Bizet’s Carmen in opera houses throughout North and South America and Europe to great acclaim; she and Placido Domingo opened the Metropolitan Opera’s 1997–1998 season in that opera. Another signature role for Graves is Dalila in Samson et Dalila (Saint-Saens), which she has also sung at the Met. A few of the works in which she has been soloist with leading orchestras worldwide are Verdi’s Requiem, La Damnation de Faust by Berlioz, Shéhérazade by Ravel, and Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder and Eighth Symphony.
RERI GRIST (1932– ) Singer
Born in New York City, soprano Reri Grist received her bachelor’s degree in music from Queens College (New York) in 1954. Performing the role of Consuela in Bernstein’s West Side Story brought her national attention. She made an equally strong impression in a very different work—Mahler’s Symphony No. 4—which she sang with the New York Philharmonic. Since then, she has sung at many of the world’s leading opera houses including La Scala (Milan), Vienna State, Britain’s Royal Opera, and the Metropolitan Opera.
In 1960, the stage director of the Met, Herbert Graf, left that company to become director of the Zürich Opera. Grist was one of several artists to go with him. While she was in Europe, Stravinsky asked Grist to sing in Le Rossignol under his direction. Besides performing, Grist has taught at the Hochschule für Musik (Germany) and Indiana University.
EMMA AZALIA HACKLEY (1867–1922) Singer, Choral Director, Educator
E. Azalia Hackley did as much to promote African American musicians as she did their traditional music. Growing up in Detroit, she studied voice and piano and began to perform in public at an early age. She received a degree in music at the University of Denver in 1901 and later traveled to Paris, France, for further voice study.
Hackley traveled extensively as a recitalist in the early years of the century, but gradually became more occupied with furthering the careers of young African American artists. She established scholarships, sponsored debut recitals, and also helped many young performers to find college-level teaching positions. Hackley founded the Normal Vocal Institute in Chicago in late 1915 and directed it until its demise in 1917. One of her major activities in the latter part of her life was organizing large community concerts to promote the importance of African American folk music and to raise the level of public interest and pride in the African American musical heritage. The Hackley Collection was established by the National Association of Negro Musicians at the Detroit Public Library some 20 years after her death, in order to preserve her papers, memorabilia, and other materials relating to African American music and musicians.
HELEN EUGENIA HAGAN (1893–1964) Pianist, Composer, Educator
Helen Hagan was born into a musical family: her mother played piano and her father was a baritone. After receiving her early music training from her mother and in the public school system in New Haven, Connecticut, she became the first African American pianist to earn a bachelor of music degree from Yale University in 1912. She was also the first African American to win Yale’s Sanford Fellowship, which permitted her to study in Europe with Vincent d’Indy. She earned a diploma in 1914 from the Schola Cantorum and returned to the United States to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University Teachers College in New York City.
Between 1914 and 1918, Hagan toured in the United States, often playing her own compositions. In 1918, she toured Europe, entertaining African American World War I servicemen. When she gave a recital in 1921 at Aeolian Hall, she became the first African American pianist to give a solo performance in a major New York City concert hall. From the 1930s onward, she was a college teacher at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State College and Bishop College (Marshall, Texas) and privately in her own New York music studio.
DOROTHY ANTOINETTE HANDY (MILLER) (1930– ) Flutist, Educator, Author
After studying violin and piano with her mother as a child, Antoinette Handy became determined on a career in music. Flute became her major instrument, and she studied at Spelman College in Atlanta; the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where she earned a bachelor of music degree in 1952; and Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where she earned a master of music degree in 1953. Later she studied at the National Conservatory in Paris and received an artist’s diploma in 1955.
As was the case with so many African American musicians and vocalists in the mid-twentieth century, Handy could not secure a job as an orchestra musician in the United States because of her race. However, a chance audition during her time in France yielded a position as first-chair flutist with the Orchestre International, an orchestra supported by the French government that toured Germany in the interest of better foreign relations in 1954. This experience served as the beginning of a 25-year career as a symphony musician with such orchestras as the Chicago Civic, Musica Viva Orchestra of Geneva, Switzerland, Symphony of the Air of the NBC radio network, the Symphony of the New World, and the Richmond (Virginia) Symphony.
In addition to performing, Handy devoted much of her life to teaching music history, theory, and arranging at such institutions as Florida A&M University and Tuskegee Institute. She conducted research of her own on the topic of African American music as a Ford Foundation Humanities Fellow in 1971 and has since published numerous articles for professional journals. She is also the author of the books Black Women in America, Bands and Orchestras (1981), The International Sweethearts of Rhythm (1983, revised 1998), Black Conductors (1995), and Jazz Man’s Journey (1999).
In 1990, Handy was appointed director of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Music Program, after having served as acting director and assistant program director. The Music Program is one of the Endowment’s largest operations, and before her retirement in 1993, Handy had administered the distribution of between 11 million and 15 million dollars—money that provided backing for up-and-coming musicians and support for the creation of new music and for musical performances, organizations, and training institutions.
MARGARET ROSEZARION HARRIS (1943–2000) Pianist, Conductor, Composer
Margaret Harris was a child prodigy; she first performed in public at the age of three, began touring nationally when she was four, and played with the Chicago Symphony when she was 10. She was a student of conducting and piano at the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Juilliard School of Music (1964, 1965).
Harris began conducting Broadway shows in 1970, starting with Hair. Other shows included Two Gentlemen of Verona, Raisin, Guys and Dolls, and Amen Corner. She was a founding member of Opera Ebony and served as its music director. Among major orchestras that she conducted were the symphonies of Chicago, Minneapolis, Detroit, San Diego, St. Louis, and Los Angeles. Harris also taught at the University of West Florida and Bronx Community College of the City University of New York.
Besides having written scores for musical productions and television shows, she composed choral and instrumental works, the scores for two ballets, and two piano concertos. Harris was both soloist and conductor for performances of these concertos.
Margaret Harris died in New York City on March 7, 2000.
HAZEL HARRISON (1883–1969) Pianist, Teacher
Hazel Harrison was born in La Porte, Indiana. She showed prodigious musical gifts from early childhood and may have earned a living as a dance-hall pianist, if it were not for her mother’s determination that she pursue a serious music career. Because a European debut was essential for an American concert performer, her major teacher, Victor Heinze, arranged a German tour
for her in 1904, during which she was a soloist with the Berlin Philharmonic and attracted favorable notices.
A grant allowed Harrison to return to Germany in 1911, when she became the student of the virtuoso pianist and composer Ferruccio Busoni, who was the biggest influence on her musical life. With the onset of World War I, she returned to the United States and stunned critics with her impressive concerts. She debuted in New York City at Town Hall in 1930 to glowing reviews. However, segregation largely confined her talent to concerts played in African American churches, high school gymnasia, and on African American college campuses. This racism caused Harrison to focus on a teaching career, and she joined the faculty of Tuskegee Institute in 1931. Other academic positions followed, at Howard University (1936–1955) and at Alabama State College in Montgomery (1958–1963). She gave her final public concert there in 1959. That Harrison never made commercial recordings is probably the main reason that, in spite of glowing reviews and the devotion of generations of her students, her achievements as a performer are now little known.
ROLAND HAYES (1887–1977) Singer
Roland Hayes was born to former slave parents in Curry-ville, Georgia. His father, a tenant farmer, died when Hayes was 11. His mother, determined that her six children would not share her illiteracy, sent them to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the brothers would rotate working and attending school. When his turn came for school, Hayes elected to continue working to provide for the family, but he studied at nights, including music study. Later, attending Fisk University, he toured with the Jubilee Singers and also traveled to London, England, for further vocal study.
Hayes became an active recitalist beginning around 1915 and was consistently acclaimed as one of the best tenors. In 1917, he became the first African American to give a recital in Boston’s Symphony Hall. Three years later, he gave a royal command performance in London and made very successful appearances throughout Europe. His recital programs included Negro spirituals, folk songs, operatic arias, and American art songs. He gave a well-received farewell concert in New York’s Carnegie Hall on his 75th birthday in 1962.
During his long career, Hayes received many awards and citations including eight honorary degrees and the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal. His success in the concert field, along with that of Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson, played a large role in broadening the opportunities later available to younger African American singers.
BARBARA HENDRICKS (1948– ) Singer
Soprano Barbara Hendricks, born in Stephens, Arkansas, on November 20, 1948, graduated from the University of Nebraska with a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and mathematics. She then attended the Juilliard School of Music in New York City and received a bachelor of music degree in voice in 1973. Hendricks made her debut in 1975 with the San Francisco Spring Opera and has since performed with major opera companies and festivals throughout the United States and Europe. Among them are the Boston Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, St. Paul Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Houston Opera, and the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, and at the Aix-en-Provence and the Glyndebourne festivals. She has performed frequently as an orchestra soloist as well.
Hendricks has received several awards, including a French Grammy for best French performer of classical music in 1986, an honorary doctorate from Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1988, and an honorary membership in the Institute of Humanitarian Law in 1990. She has also served as a human rights activist and, beginning in 1987, as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. It is in this capacity that Hendricks has traveled to Rwanda, Bosnia, and Southeast Asia.
ANN STEVENS HOBSON-PILOT (1943– ) Harpist
Ann Hobson-Pilot, born November 6, 1943, in Philadelphia, was one of the first African American women to hold a permanent position in a major national symphony orchestra. She began studying piano with her mother at an early age and took up the harp in high school so that she could play an instrument on which her mother could not judge so easily what she might be doing wrong. Her first major teacher in harp was Marilyn Costello, principal harpist of the Philadelphia Orchestra and teacher at the Philadelphia Music Academy. After her second year at the academy, she attended the Maine Harp Colony (her first application for admission had been rejected on racial grounds), where she met Alice Chalifoux, principal of the Cleveland Orchestra and teacher at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Hobson-Pilot decided to transfer to the Institute. Chalifoux was influential in starting Hobson-Pilot on her professional orchestra career at the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. Three years later, Hobson-Pilot joined the Boston Symphony as the associate principal harpist.
Hobson-Pilot’s other activities have included performing with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players and the New England Harp Trio and making solo appearances with orchestras throughout the country. Besides conducting clinics and workshops, she has taught at the Philadelphia Musical Academy, the New England Conservatory in Boston, and was a member of the board of trustees at the Longy School of Music. Hobson-Pilot has been honored by the Professional Arts Society of Philadelphia, and received an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Bridgewater State College in 1988.
BEN HOLT (1955–1990) Singer
Born in Washington, D.C., baritone Ben Holt attended the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music and was a scholarship student at the Juilliard School of Music, where he worked with Sixten Ehrling, Tito Gobbi, and Manuel Rosenthal. He also took master classes with Luciano Pavarotti and worked extensively with renowned pianist and coach Martin Isepp. When he was in the Merola Program of the San Francisco Opera, taking master classes with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, he was invited to study privately with her at her studio in Zürich, Switzerland.
Holt made his Metropolitan Opera debut in Puccini’s La Bohème during the 1985–1986 season, and in 1986 he made his debut with the New York City Opera in the title role of Malcolm X, by Anthony Davis. Leading roles in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro were also in his repertoire. Holt won many competitions, including the Joy of Singing Competition and the D’Angelo Young Artists Competition, and awards from the Oratorio Society of New York and Independent Black Opera Singers.
AMADI HUMMINGS (1969– ) Violinist, Teacher
Born in New York City in 1969, Amadi Hummings began his early music lessons with his mother. Later, he was selected to attend the North Carolina School of the Arts where his formal training began. After graduation from high school, he continued his studies at the New England Conservatory with renowned violist, Marcus Thompson, also a member of the music faculty at MIT. Hummings did further study at Indiana University where he served as an Associate Instructor and received the Performer’s Certificate. In 1994, Hummings was awarded the master’s degree from Indiana University.
As a faculty member at Old Dominion University (Norfolk, Virginia) from 1994 to 2000, Hummings taught violin and viola and conducted the Old Dominion University Chamber Orchestra. Since that time, Hummings’ career has included appearances in recitals in such major cities as New York, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Houston, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. Hummings also performed at the U. S. Supreme Court. Hummings continues to appear with symphonies around the world and at music festivals. Currently, he serves as the Director of Program Development for the Gateways Music Festival and performs school residencies in Virginia.
ISAIAH JACKSON (1945– ) Conductor
Isaiah Jackson was born in Richmond, Virginia, where he started piano lessons at the age of four, was sent to a private boarding school in Vermont when he was 14 years old, and traveled with his high school class to the former Soviet Union.
Although Jackson had wanted to be a musician, his parents hoped that he would enter the diplomatic corps. Eventually, he enrolled at Harvard University, from which he graduated cum laude in 1966 with a degree in Russian history and literature. Upon graduation, he followed his first inclination and went to Stanford University for studies in music. After earning a master’s degree there in 1967, he moved to the Juilliard School of Music in New York City, where he earned another master’s and a doctor of musical arts degree, finishing in 1973.
Shortly thereafter, Jackson conducted major American orchestras including the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics and the Vienna Symphony. He was also conductor for the Dance Theatre of Harlem at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. Jackson held concurrent positions with various regional orchestras and, for 14 years, he was associate conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic. In 1985, he was guest conductor with the orchestra of the Royal Ballet, London, and became the first African American to hold a chief position—music director—with the Royal Ballet in 1987. In that year, he also became the first African American conductor of the Dayton (Ohio) Philharmonic. Jackson has served as guest conductor in the United States and abroad and has been principal guest conductor of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.
Jackson’s awards include being honored as the recipient of the first Governor’s Award for the Arts in Virginia in 1979. He also received the Signet Society Medal for the Arts from Harvard University in 1991.
EVA JESSYE (1895–1992) Choral Conductor, Composer
Ebony magazine cited Eva Jessye as “the first black woman to receive international distinction as a choral director,” and she was the first African American woman to succeed as a professional choral conductor. Because of racial discrimination, she could not attend high school in her hometown of Coffeyville, Kansas, so she went to Kansas City to study at the Quindaro State School for the Colored (now Western University). There she met Will Marion Cook, who influenced her to become a musician. She also studied at Langston University in Oklahoma and, on completing her formal education, taught in public schools and at Morgan State (Baltimore) and Claflin (Orangeburg, South Carolina) colleges.
With her move to New York City in 1922, Jessye began her career as a choral conductor, and a few years later she became successful in radio with her own choir. After that, she was invited to train a choir for the King Vidor film Hallelujah and then directed the choirs for two of the operas that would be very important to the careers of so many young African American singers: Four Saints in Three Acts (1934) by Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein, and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, based on the book by DuBose Heywood (1935). Jessye was involved in many later productions of this opera into the early 1960s. Her choir did not disband until 1970.
Among Jessye’s compositions, based largely on spirituals, are the oratorio Paradise Lost and Regained (1936) and The Chronicle of Job, a folk drama (1936), as well as many arrangements, especially of spirituals. Her very large collection of memorabilia makes up the Eva Jessye Collection of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Afro-American Music Collections. Jessye lived in Ann Arbor for the last 10 years of her life.
CATERINA JARBORO (1898–1986) Singer
Caterina Jarboro was the first African American to perform with a major opera company when she sang the title role of Aida in 1930 at the Puccini Opera House in Milan, Italy. She made history again on July 22, 1933, in her American debut. For the first time ever, a black woman performed the lead role in an all-white company when impresario Afredo Salmaggi hired Jarboro to sing Verdi’s Aida with his Chicago Opera Company at the Hippodrome in New York City.
Born in Wilmington, North Carolina, to an African American father and a Native American mother, Jarboro was one of six children. She attended the local Catholic schools and sang Gregorian chants in Latin in her Catholic Church choir while growing up. At the age of 13, following the deaths of her parents, she went to Brooklyn to live with an aunt. There she took music lessons and continued to sing at Catholic masses until she was hired for the chorus of Shuffle Along. In 1926, she moved to Europe where she studied and sang in France and Italy. After Jarboro’s final engagement at the New York Hippodrome in 1935, she sang in the great opera houses throughout Europe. In 1941, she returned to the United States with notable recitals at Town Hall and Carnegie Hall in 1942 and 1944, respectively. She retired from the concert stage in 1955.
Jarboro died in Manhattan after a brief illness in August 1986. On December 11, 1999, Jarboro was post-humously honored by her hometown when she was inducted into the Celebrate Wilmington Walk of Fame.
JOHN ROSAMOND JOHNSON (1873–1954) Composer, Performer
J. Rosamond Johnson, born in Jacksonville, Florida, began piano lessons at age four with his mother. At an early age, he studied composition and voice with teachers at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and, around 1905, privately with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in London, England, when Johnson was performing there.
Johnson’s career as a professional performer began in 1896. In 1899, he went to New York City to work in the musical theater, first in vaudeville. He soon formed a partnership with his brother, writer/poet/political activist James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) and the established vaudevillian Bob Cole. They were very successful in producing and writing their own works and contributing to many other musicals during the first decade of the century. After Cole’s death in 1912, J. Rosamond continued working with his brother and other partners, made several tours in the United States and England, and sang in many stage productions including the original (1935) and subsequent companies of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Another notable theatrical work in which he performed was Cabin in the Sky.
Besides their theatrical collaborations, the brothers Johnson wrote the song Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing, which was premiered in 1900 by a public school chorus in Jacksonville. The song became known as the Negro National Anthem and later as the Black National Anthem. Later, the brothers published two collections of arrangements of spirituals for solo voice and piano (1925, 1926), and J. Rosamond issued two more volumes of arrangements of African American folk music (1936, 1937), the second of which is titled Rolling Along in Song: A Chronological Survey of American Negro Music. All of these publications, as well as their works for the musical stage, reflected James Weldon’s concern that “a distinct African-American creative voice” be sustained in artistic works and attest to their interest in, knowledge of, and sense of the need for the preservation of the folk music of African Americans.
ELAYNE JONES (1928– ) Timpanist
Elayne Jones, born in New York City on January 30, 1928, began to study the piano with her mother when she was six. She graduated from the High School of Music and Art and then attended the Juilliard School of Music on a scholarship sponsored by Duke Ellington. In 1949, she was hired by the New York City Opera and Ballet Company orchestra. She worked with many other orchestras in the New York area, including the American Symphony Orchestra from 1962, when the orchestra was founded, until 1972. In that year, she was invited by the San Francisco Symphony’s music director, Seiji Ozawa, to become its timpanist. Accepting, she became the first African American female to hold a principal chair in a major orchestra.
In 1974, Jones was denied tenure with the orchestra, and, on appeal in 1975, was again denied. She lost the fight to retain her position despite her exemplary professional record and the strong support of friends, colleagues, and the San Francisco public. In 1965, she had been one of the movers for founding the Symphony of the New World and was its first president. Additionally, she has worked as a freelance timpanist in the musical theater, films, and television. She has also taught in many institutions in the New York and San Francisco areas and has lectured widely.
In 1993, the National Association of Negro Musicians gave her its Distinguished Service Award. Jones announced in 1994 that she would take a leave of absence from the San Francisco Opera, where she had played since leaving the symphony, in order “to investigate how [to] best use [her] years of experience to benefit young African American people.”
SCOTT JOPLIN (1868–1917) Composer, Pianist
Scott Joplin was born in Texarkana in 1868 and received an early musical education in guitar and piano. Leaving home in his teens, he became a traveling musician, settling for some periods of time in Sedalia and St. Louis, Missouri. He worked with minstrel companies and other musical groups and began to be recognized as an outstanding ragtime piano player. His enduringly popular Maple Leaf Rag was published in 1899, and publication of many more ragtime compositions followed regularly.
Joplin had ambitions for writing more “substantial” works, however, and his first effort was the opera A Guest of Honor, which he took on tour in 1903. This was a financial failure (even though it was a “ragtime opera”), and any performance materials were lost. After Joplin’s move to New York in 1907, where his compositions continued to be successfully published, he decided to return to the musical theater and, in 1911, completed Treemonisha. He himself undertook publication of the vocal score; the storyline was a sort of parable about education being the key to improve the lot of the African American. No performance was mounted during his lifetime. However, there was a premiere of the work given at the Atlanta Memorial Arts Center in January of 1972, for the Afro-American Music Workshop of Morehouse College. T.J. Anderson orchestrated from the vocal score, and Katherine Dunham was responsible for staging and choreography. Two subsequent orchestrations were made, attesting to the work’s popularity and attraction to musicians, and the opera reached Broadway for a run in 1975.
The Complete Works of Scott Joplin was issued in 1981 (the piano works), and there have been numerous articles, books, and dissertations written on Joplin’s life and works since the resurgence of interest in ragtime in the early 1970s. In 1976, he was awarded the honorary Bicentennial Pulitzer Prize for contributions to American music.
ROBERT JORDAN (1940– ) Pianist, Educator
Robert Jordan was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1940. He earned a bachelor of music degree in 1962 from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where his major teacher was Cecile Genhart; and a master of music degree at the Juilliard School of Music, with Rosina Lhevine as his major teacher, in 1965.
Jordan made a successful New York debut as soloist with the Symphony of the New World in 1971 and as recitalist in the next season at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center. He was a Fulbright Scholar for two years, which he spent studying and performing in Germany. Jordan has performed in Africa, Asia, South America, Europe, and the United States as recitalist and orchestra soloist. In 1980, he joined the faculty of the State University of New York at Fredonia as professor of piano, and he received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. In 1987, he served as Martin Luther King Visiting Professor at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, and, in 1991, in the same capacity at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Jordan established the Mamie and Ira Jordan Minority Music Scholarship and Scholastic Achievement award at SUNY-Fredonia in 1997.
ULYSSES SIMPSON KAY (1917–1995) Composer, Educator
From the mid-1940s on, Ulysses Kay composed steadily for instrumental solos and ensembles, string, chamber, and full orchestra, band, voice, chorus, opera, and for film and television. A large number of his works—almost 60—were commissioned. His compositions are strongly based in Western European traditions, as he was a student of Howard Hanson and Paul Hindemith, but they are also rooted in African American folk music practices.
Kay was born in Tucson, Arizona, to musical parents, and he benefited from a number of other musical influences throughout his childhood. His uncle was the legendary cornet player Joseph “King” Oliver, who urged his sister to give the young Ulysses piano lessons before starting him on any other instrument. Besides
piano, however, he studied violin and saxophone, sang in the school glee club, and played in the marching band and dance orchestra. He attended the University of Arizona, where he earned a bachelor of music degree in 1938. Two years later, he received a master of music degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.
During service in the Navy from 1942 to 1946, Kay wrote the work that first brought him critical attention, Of New Horizons, which was performed by the New York Philharmonic in 1944. Kay’s Suite for Orchestra in 1945 received a prize from Broadcast Music, Incorporated, a company for which Kay later acted as a consultant from 1953 until 1968. This prize was to be the first of many awards, fellowships, and grants, which would allow the gifted composer to concentrate on his music in both Europe and the United States.
Although he served as a visiting professor at Boston University and the University of California at Los Angeles, he did not receive a permanent teaching position until he joined the faculty of the Lehman College of the City University of New York in 1968. In 1988, he retired from his position as distinguished professor of composition and theory.
Some representative works by Kay are the film score The Quiet One (1948), Six Dances for String Orchestra (1954), Choral Triptych (1962), Markings (1966), Southern Harmony: Four Aspects for Orchestra (1975), and the opera—one of five—Frederick Douglass (1991). Kay received over 25 honors and awards, which include a George Gershwin Memorial Award, Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships, a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as several honorary doctorates.
TANIA LEÓN (1943– ) Composer, Conductor, Pianist
Tania Justina León is a native of Havana, Cuba, where she earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in music from the Carlos Alfredo Peyrellado Conservatory. In 1967, she emigrated to the United States and worked for another bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s in composition from New York University. There she studied with Ursula Mamlok and Laszlo Halasz, and later she studied conducting with Seiji Ozawa and Leonard Bernstein at the Berkshire Music Festival at Tanglewood, Massachusetts.
In New York, León’s first professional work in music was as an accompanist and then music director of what became Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theatre of Harlem. She went to the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, with the company in 1971, and there she made her first appearance as conductor. Additionally, she wrote scores for Mitchell’s choreography. With increasing demands on her time for guest conducting, piano performances, and commissions for works, she left the company in 1980. She served as music director for the Alvin Ailey Dance Company for the 1983–1984 season, and music director for Broadway musicals from 1978’s The Wiz, to The Lion King in 1996. For her contributions to music, Tania J. Leon received the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters award in 1991.
León joined the faculty of Brooklyn College in 1985 and became professor in 1994. She was the Revson Composer for the New York Philharmonic from 1993 until 1996, and its new music advisor from 1996 to 1997. She has also served as composer- or conductor/composer-in-residence for many orchestras and educational institutions.
Thoroughly trained in the classical music tradition, León began to incorporate her ethnic backgrounds—encompassing Chinese, African, South American, Cuban, and French—into the creation of unique works with startling juxtapositions, which are informed by her mastery of the contemporary orchestra. Just a few of her colorful works are: Kabiosile for piano and orchestra (1988); Indígena for chamber orchestra (1991); the chamber opera Scourge of Hyacinths for the Fourth Munich Biennale (1994); Para Viola y Orquesta (1995); and Bata (1995). She has received over 30 commissions and numerous honors and awards, including citations from the National Council of the Arts, Havana, the National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, the Dean Dixon Achievement Award, and a Rockefeller Foundation residency.
HENRY JAY LEWIS (1932–1996) Conductor, Double Bassist
Henry Lewis was born in Los Angeles and knew early on that he wanted to be a musician, in spite of his father’s disapproval of the profession. He was only 16 years old when he joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1948 as a double bassist, becoming the first African American instrumentalist to play with a major American orchestra. In 1954, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. While stationed in Germany, between 1955 and 1957 he conducted the Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra. Following discharge, he returned to the Los Angeles Philharmonic as assistant conductor. Lewis founded the String Society of Los Angeles in 1959 (later known as the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra) and was engaged as guest conductor with virtually every major American orchestra. From 1965 to 1968, he was also the music director of the Los Angeles Opera Company.
Lewis was selected as conductor and music director of the New Jersey Symphony in 1968 and so became the first African American to serve in that position with a major American orchestra. He conducted the New York Philharmonic in 1972 and became the first African American to conduct the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Resigning from the New Jersey Symphony in 1976, Lewis remained active as a guest conductor in the United States and Europe, and made recordings with the Scottish Opera and the Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra. In 1991, he was music director of the London production of Carmen Jones.
Lewis was founder of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters and a member of the California Arts Commission and the Young Musicians Foundation.
DOROTHY LEIGH MAYNOR (1910–1996) Singer, Administrator
Born in Norfolk, Virginia, Dorothy Mainor (she changed the spelling of her last name when she became a singer) grew up in an atmosphere of music and singing. She intended originally to become a home economics teacher, and, with this in mind, entered the Hampton Institute College Preparatory School in 1924. However, her development as a singer in the school choir prompted her choir director, R. Nathaniel Dett, to convince her to switch to a voice major. She graduated from the Institute with a bachelor’s degree in 1933.
Maynor was heard by the director of the Westminster Choir, who made it possible for her to receive a scholarship at the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. She received her bachelor’s degree in music in 1935 and went to New York City to continue voice study. At the Berkshire Music Festival in Tanglewood, Massachusetts, in 1939, Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Serge Koussevitzky immediately took an interest in furthering her career. Maynor was acclaimed by critics on her 1939 Town Hall debut in New York, and thus began her remarkable 25-year career as recitalist, orchestra soloist, and recording artist.
Following her debut, Maynor toured the United States and the rest of the world and performed with the leading orchestras of the day. Additionally, Maynor embarked upon a recording career in which she sang arias, spirituals, and operas. Her interpretations of the latter, however, were limited to the recording studio because no opera company of the time would allow an African American to perform in their productions. Although her singing earned Maynor extremely favorable reviews from critics around the world, she was not allowed to audition for the Metropolitan Opera. In an ironic twist, she would become the first African American member of the Met’s board of directors in 1975. In 1952, Maynor became the first African American artist to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.
Maynor retired from singing after her husband’s heart attack in 1963. However, she remained active in the arts through the foundation of what became the Harlem School of the Arts located initially in the St. James Presbyterian Church. By the late 1970s, the school boasted more than 40 instructors and over 1,000 students. With the school rapidly outgrowing the church, Maynor raised $3.5 million to erect a new building, which opened in 1979, the year she retired as its director.
BOBBY MCFERRIN (1950– ) Singer, Conductor, Songwriter
Robert McFerrin Jr., the son of opera singers Robert and Sara McFerrin, was born on March 11, 1950, in New York City. In 1958, his family moved to Los Angeles; he attended Sacramento State University and Cerritos College. Dropping out of college, he played piano for several show companies. By 1977, he had decided to concentrate on a singing career, and he was discovered by Jon Hendricks. He performed at jazz festivals and began touring and recording with George Benson and Herbie Hancock, among other jazz greats. His first of many solo albums was called simply Bobby McFerrin. He has gone on to win ten Grammy Awards. His song Don’t Worry, Be Happy topped the popular music charts in 1989.
McFerrin made his conducting debut with the San Francisco Symphony in 1990, and he was appointed
conductor and creative chair of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. In 2002, he was chosen as a recipient of the prestigious George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music in America. McFerrin is in demand as both vocalist and conductor for orchestras around the country and continues to present innovative programming in both capacities.
ROBERT MCFERRIN (1921–2006) Singer, Educator
Baritone Robert McFerrin, born on March 19, 1921, in Marianna, Arkansas, was brought up in St. Louis, Missouri, where he attended public schools and sang in his father’s church choir. After a year at Fisk University in Nashville, Robert attended the Chicago Musical College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree.
McFerrin began his professional singing career in Broadway shows, including Lost in the Stars and The Green Pastures. He also sang with the National Negro Opera Company in William Grant Still’s Troubled Island, the role of Rigoletto with the New England Opera Company in 1950, and, after winning the 1954 Metropolitan Auditions of the Air, he became a member of the regular roster of the Metropolitan Opera for three seasons, the first African American male singer to do so.
McFerrin has been a guest professor of voice at several institutions in Finland, Canada, and the United States, and has performed widely in North and South America and Europe. Both Stowe Teacher’s College in St. Louis and the University of Missouri awarded him honorary doctorates.
LENA JOHNSON MCLIN (1928– ) Composer, Conductor, Educator
Born September 5, 1928, in Atlanta, Lena McLin was immersed in music as a child, particularly gospel and classical. Her mother, a choir director, gave her piano lessons and exposed her to various kinds of sacred music. This foundation of religious music became even stronger during the years she lived with the family of her uncle, Thomas A. Dorsey, the “father of gospel music,” in Chicago. McLin received a bachelor of music degree from Spelman College in Atlanta in 1951, and she moved to Chicago for graduate study in composition and music theory, first at the American Conservatory of Music and then at Roosevelt University, where she also studied electronic music and voice.
In 1959, McLin began a long teaching career in the Chicago public schools, which was distinguished by her development and implementation of a music curriculum for the school system, and included her writing a textbook on music history. She also conducted a variety of church and community choirs; founded an opera company, the McLin Ensemble, in 1957, and the gospel group, the McLin Singers, in 1968; and has served as guest conductor and in workshops for several national organizations and educational institutions.
The varied list of McLin’s compositions includes several piano solos and dozens of choral works, among them the commissioned mass Eucharist of the Soul, the dramatic oratorio Free at Last: A Portrait of Martin Luther King Jr., and The Torch Has Been Passed, based on President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address. Her style shows her love for and mastery of all kinds of music—gospel, rock, popular, and past and current traditions of Western concert music—which can be distinct or interwoven in her scores and always make clear and direct statements.
ABBIE MITCHELL SEEDRAMA, COMEDY, AND DANCE CHAPTER.
LEONA MITCHELL (1949– ) Singer
Soprano Leona Mitchell was born in Enid, Oklahoma, and graduated from Oklahoma University in 1971. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Micaela in Bizet’s Carmen in 1975 and also sang the roles of Lauretta in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, Pamina in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and Madamoiselle Lidoine in Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites.
Her outstanding vocal capabilities have caused her to be regarded as the leading American soprano with a career that has taken her to all the major opera houses of the world. She has likewise performed with several orchestras and, in 1980, sang the role of Bess in the Cleveland Orchestra Blossom Festival production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and in the subsequent recording. In 1983, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. Mitchell was one of a select group of subjects considered in Rosalyn M. Story’s 1990 book, And So I Sing: African-American Divas of Opera and Concert.
DOROTHY RUDD MOORE (1940– ) Composer, Teacher, Singer
Born in Wilmington, Delaware, Dorothy Rudd Moore attended the Wilmington School of Music as a teenager and, in 1963, received a bachelor of music degree, magna cum laude, in theory and composition from Howard University, where her major composition teacher was Mark Fax. Later, she studied composition privately with Chou Wen Chung in New York City and with Nadia Boulanger at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France. She also studied voice at Howard University and privately, and she has performed frequently as a singer.
Moore taught piano, voice, sight-singing, and ear-training at the Harlem School of the Arts, New York University, and Bronx Community College. Among her works in various media are: Dirge and Deliverance, for piano and cello, commissioned by her husband Kermit Moore; Flowers of Darkness for tenor and piano, commissioned by William Brown; Reflections for concert band; and the opera Frederick Douglass, commissioned and premiered by Opera Ebony in 1985, about which Opera News reported that she “displays a rare ability to wed musical and dramatic motion, graceful lyric inventiveness, [and] a full command of the orchestral palette.”
KERMIT MOORE (1929– ) Cellist, Conductor, Composer
Kermit Moore’s first musical identity was as a cellist. He studied the instrument at the Cleveland Institute of Music and received a bachelor’s degree in 1951. He earned a master of arts degree at New York University in 1952, and, in 1956, he attended the Paris National Conservatory and was awarded an artist’s diploma. He gave his New York recital debut at Town Hall in 1949 and has performed concerts internationally in the major capitals of Europe and Asia. He has also made appearances with many orchestras, particularly in Europe.
In 1964, Moore co-founded the Symphony of the New World in New York. Besides performing as cellist with the group, he also conducted occasionally. He was careful to include a wide variety of works by African American composers on his symphonic programs. One of the most unusual, perhaps, was the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, premiered in 1867 by its composer, the Afro-Cuban Joseph White, and given its first American performance with Ruggero Ricci as soloist in 1974. He has had many engagements as guest conductor in the United States.
In addition to his work with the Symphony of the New World, Moore has served as conductor of the Brooklyn Philharmonic beginning in 1984. He is also one of several founders of the Society of Black Composers as well as the Classical Heritage Ensemble. He writes instrumental solos and ensembles including concertos for cello and timpani, and for voice.
UNDINE SMITH MOORE (1904–1989) Composer, Educator
A native of Jarret, Virginia, Undine Smith Moore studied piano in Petersburg and began her college studies at Fisk University in Nashville. In 1926, she was awarded a bachelor of arts degree, cum laude, and a music school diploma, and later attended Columbia University Teachers College, where she earned a master’s degree and professional diploma in 1931. She took further graduate studies at several schools including the Juilliard and Eastman Schools of Music.
Moore taught at Virginia State College in Petersburg from 1927 until 1972, when she became professor emerita. Her students included many illustrious contributors to the music world, such as jazz pianist Billy Taylor, opera singer Camilla Williams, conductor Leon Thompson, gospel singer Robert Fryson, music educators Michael V.W. Gordon and James Mumford, and composer Phil Medley. At the university, she co-founded the Black Music Center in 1969 and was co-director until 1972. After retirement, she was a visiting professor at many universities and colleges. Some of her awards include honorary doctorates from Virginia State University and Indiana University, the Seventh Annual Humanitarian Awards from Fisk University, and the National Association of Negro Musicians Award (1975). In 1982, her Scenes from the Life of a Martyr: To the Memory of Martin Luther King, an oratorio, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
Moore’s style was infused with African American influences and a tonal musical language. Choral music makes up the largest part of her output and there are many works for instrumental solos and ensembles including Afro-American Suite, commissioned by Antoinette Handy’s Trio Pro Viva. Her 1987 trio Soweto, inspired by events in that South African town, was the last work she wrote.
MICHAEL DEVARD MORGAN (1957– ) Conductor
Born in Washington, D.C., Michael Morgan received music training in the public schools he attended, in addition to private piano lessons. He attended the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music from 1975 to 1979. He pursued additional studies in the Vienna master classes of Witold Rowicki and at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, where he was a conducting fellow and student of Seiji Ozawa and Gunther Schuller. Morgan was selected to work with Leonard Bernstein for one week, which culminated in Morgan’s appearance with the New York Philharmonic in September of 1986. From 1980 to 1987, he was Exxon/Arts Endowment assistant conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and later became affiliate artist conductor; he was also co-resident conductor of the Chicago Civic Orchestra. He became music director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony Orchestra in 1993 and has appeared as a guest conductor with many of the nation’s major orchestras and abroad.
The many awards Morgan has earned include first prize in the Hans Swarowsky International Conductors Competition (Vienna, Austria), the first prize in the Gino Marrinuzzi International Conductors Competition (San Remo, Italy), and first prize in the Baltimore Symphony Young Conductors Competition.
JESSYE NORMAN (1945– ) Singer
On September 15, 1945, soprano Jessye Norman was born into a musical family in Augusta, Georgia. Her mother, a schoolteacher, gave her children piano lessons. The young Jessye’s musical talents were evident early, and at the age of 16 she entered the Marian Anderson Scholarship competition. She did not win, but her audition at Howard University led to a four-year scholarship. Receiving her bachelor’s degree in 1967, she continued study, first at the Peabody Conservatory with Alice Dushak, and then at the University of Michigan with Pierre Bernac and Elizabeth Mannion for a master’s degree in 1968. That year, she entered the International Music Competition held in Munich, Germany, and won first place. Her operatic career in Europe was launched, and she made debuts at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, La Scala in Milan, and the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London. Her American opera debut took place at the Hollywood Bowl as Aida, and her stage debut with the Opera Company of Philadelphia in the double bill of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex (1982). In 1983, she made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Cassandra in Les Troyens by Berlioz.
Taking a break from opera performance, Norman was a busy recitalist and orchestra soloist from 1975 to 1980, with a far-ranging repertoire. She continued these activities after resuming operatic appearances as Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss. Her vocal prowess and the breadth of her musicianship are demonstrated by the variety of operas that she sings including Rameau, Mozart, Meyerbeer, Wagner, Verdi, and Bartok. Among her numerous recordings are two compact discs of spirituals (one with Kathleen Battle) and many concert works and operas, and even a “cross-over” pop album Lucky to Be Me. Norman won a Grammy Award in 1984 for her performance on Songs of Maurice Ravel. She has also received honorary degrees from Howard University, the Boston Conservatory, and the University of the South.
COLERIDGE-TAYLOR PERKINSON (1932– ) Composer, Conductor
A native New Yorker, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson graduated from the High School for Music and Art in that city and, after two years at New York University, transferred to the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied conducting with Jonel Perlea and composition with Vittorio Giannini. He also studied composing at Princeton University with Earl Kim, and conducting at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, and the Netherlands Radio Union.
Perkinson worked steadily as a composer and music director. Some of the groups with which he has been associated are the Dessoff Choirs as assistant conductor, the Max Roach Jazz Quartet as pianist, the Symphony of the New World, as founding member and associate conductor from 1965 to 1970, and the Negro Ensemble Company as composer-in-residence. He has received many commissions, including three from dance companies: Arthur Mitchell Dance Company, 1971; Dance Theatre of Harlem, 1972 and 1987; and the American Dance Theater Foundation, 1984. He has been guest conductor for several orchestras in the United States and abroad.
Perkinson has written a great deal of incidental and commercial music for film and television programs, and he has written and arranged for many different kinds of artists, such as Harry Belafonte, Max Roach, Marvin Gaye, and Melvin Van Peebles. Instrumental works are predominant in his catalog of works, ranging from solos to mixed ensembles to string, chamber, and full orchestras. His works demonstrate his complete knowledge of twentieth century compositional techniques and his ease in using them for highly varied expressive purposes. The folk music of African Americans is a basic part of what and how Perkinson writes.
JULIA PERRY (1924–1979) Composer, Conductor
Julia Perry, born in Lexington, Kentucky, was raised in Akron, Ohio. As a child, she studied piano and became interested in composing early on. In 1942, she entered the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and studied composition and conducting, in addition to violin, piano, and voice. After earning a master’s degree in 1948, she studied composition at the Juilliard School of Music, where her music was performed for the first time.
In the 1950s, Perry lived mostly in Europe. Having studied with Luigi Dallapiccola at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, Massachusetts, she continued studies with him in Italy on two Guggenheim Fellowships in 1954 and 1956. She also studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris during this time and won a Boulanger Grand Prix for her Viola Sonata in 1952. She continued studying conducting as well, and she had many opportunities to conduct some of her works in Europe. She also was a lecturer on American music through the United States Information Service.
With her return to the United States in 1959, Perry continued to compose and was engaged to teach at several colleges. She concentrated on writing instrumental music in the 1960s, whereas earlier she specialized in vocal music including choral. Among her output of orchestral works were 12 symphonies. Whatever the medium, Perry was almost always availing herself of the rich resources of her African American musical heritage, and she was in command of the Western European tradition, including the latest techniques that had been developed in Europe and the United States.
Some of her most-performed works are: Stabat Mater (1951) for contralto or mezzo-soprano and string quartet or string orchestra; A Short Piece for Orchestra (1952), that was premiered by the Turin Symphony conducted by Dean Dixon; and Homunculus C.F. (1960), for eight percussionists, harp, celesta, and piano.
A debilitating stroke in 1973 almost incapacitated Perry, and it was no doubt a major factor in her early death.
EVELYN LARUE PITTMAN (1910– ) Choral Director, Composer
While a senior at Spelman College in Atlanta studying African American history, Evelyn Pittman committed herself to teaching African American history through music. Her first work, a musical play, was produced at Spelman in 1933, the year she graduated. During the years she taught in the public schools in Oklahoma City from 1935 to 1956, she conducted weekly broadcasts with her own professional vocal group, the Evelyn Pittman Choir, on a local radio station. She also directed a 350-voice choir sponsored by the YWCA, and directed
orchestras, choirs, and operettas in the schools. She published songs that she composed about African American leaders that she published in the collection Rich Heritage in 1944.
In 1948, Pittman went to the Juilliard School of Music in New York City to study composition under Robert Ward. Later, she attended the University of Oklahoma at Norman and studied with Harrison Kerr, receiving a master’s degree in 1954. Kerr introduced her to his former teacher, Nadia Boulanger, who became her teacher from 1956 to 1958. During that period, she completed her folk opera Cousin Esther written for an African American cast. It was performed many times to favorable reviews in both France and the United States.
Pittman returned to public school teaching in 1958 in New York and continued to compose. After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, she wrote the opera Freedom Child in his memory. Upon her retirement from teaching, she dedicated herself to directing a touring company of Freedom Child and remained committed to improving race relations through music and drama.
AWADAGIN PRATT (1966– ) Pianist, Conductor, Violinist
Awadagin Pratt was born on March 6, 1966, in Pittsburgh, and began studying piano at the age of six. In 1975, his family moved to Illinois, and he attended the University of Illinois, Urbana, at the age of 16, majoring in music. In 1986, he enrolled in the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, where he earned performer’s certificates in piano and violin in 1989 and a graduate performance diploma in conducting in 1992.
In 1992, Pratt’s career as a concert pianist began when he became the first African American to win the Naumburg International piano composition. After several major concert successes, he was awarded the Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1994, and his full-time concert career continued at a rapid pace. He has performed with many major American orchestras, and he has given recitals throughout the United States and in Europe, Africa, and Japan.
Pratt has been interested in the education of younger musicians during his career and has given up to 10 master classes a year, beginning in 1992, at such colleges as the Eastman School of Music and the universities of Washington, Missouri, Minnesota, Texas, and many others. He has served on the boards of the Pratt Music Foundation and the Next Generation Festival.
Pratt’s third recording on the EMI recording label was entitled Live from South Africa (1997), performed from the stage of the Capetown Opera House. Asked by an interviewer for Piano and Keyboard magazine about how he chooses music for performance, Pratt responded that his selections “have to be works that express, that evoke something more than themselves. Music and art are about expressing some sort of joy about all states of experience—a celebration, even, of those states.”
Pratt’s recordings include Play Bach (2002), Pratt: Transformations (1999), Beethoven: Piano Sonatas (1996), and Awadagin Pratt: A Long Way From Normal (1994).
FLORENCE BEATRICE PRICE (1888–1953) Composer, Pianist, Educator
As a young child, Florence Price studied piano with her mother in her hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas, and was precocious enough to play in public for the first time at the age of four. When she was only 14, she began studying with Frederick Converse and George Chadwick at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where she earned diplomas in organ and piano in 1906. She returned to Arkansas to teach at the high school and college levels and moved to Atlanta in 1910 to become head of the music department of Clark College.
In 1912, Florence married attorney Thomas Price in Little Rock, where they lived until moving in 1927 to Chicago—a move prompted by increasing racial tensions in the South. In Chicago, she taught privately and took advanced studies at the Chicago Musical College and the American Conservatory. Price had published her first composition in 1899, and, after her move to Chicago, the number of her publications increased notably, especially of organ, piano, and vocal music.
The best-known of her orchestral works is, perhaps, her Symphony in A Minor, No. 1 that won first prize in the 1930 Wanamaker Music Contest; it was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress Exhibition in 1933. Three of her other prizewinning compositions in that competition were Piano Sonata in E Minor (first prize) and Piano Fantasie No. 4, and the orchestral Ethiopia’s Shadow in America (both honorable mentions). Her Concerto in One Movement for piano had several performances, the solo part often played by her student Margaret Bonds. Price was well-known for her songs and arrangements of spirituals, which were performed by such stellar singers as Marian Anderson, Roland Hayes, Leontyne Price, and Blanche Thebom. Anderson championed her setting of Langston Hughes’ Songs to a Dark Virgin.
Price was thoroughly familiar with and comfortable in using African American folk music, both sacred and secular, and her works in standard concert form usually demonstrate this aspect of her style. Overall, her style is usually described as “neoromantic” and “nationalistic.”
LEONTYNE PRICE (1927– ) Singer
Soprano Mary Violet Leontyne Price was born on February 10, 1927, in Laurel, Mississippi, where her parents encouraged her in music with piano lessons and participation in their church choir. With the idea of teaching music in school, she attended Central State College in Wilberforce, Ohio. Even before her graduation in 1949 with a bachelor’s degree in music education, she received a scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Her work there attracted the attention of critic and composer Virgil Thomson, who cast her in her first professional role as Cecilia in a revival of his and Gertrude Stein’s opera Four Saints in Three Acts. Soon afterwards, she toured in Europe as Bess in a revival of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (1952–1954). Her marriage to co-star William Warfield ended in divorce in 1973.
After the tour was completed, Price made her New York recital debut at Town Hall and took other operatic roles on both stage and television. She was the first African American to perform opera in television when she played Puccini’s Tosca. Her performance was so well-received that she was invited back to play Pamina and Donna Anna from Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni, respectively, and Madame Lidoine in Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites. Her Metropolitan Opera debut was as Leonora in Verdi’s Il Trovatore. Other Verdi roles in which she was brilliantly successful were in Aida, Un Ballo in Maschera, Ernani, and La Forza del Destino. For the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House in 1966, she was Cleopatra in the specially commissioned opera by Samuel Barber, Antony andCleopatra. She has sung many roles with other opera companies as well, especially the San Francisco Opera (she was awarded their medal in honor of the twentieth anniversary of her company debut) and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Price has received several honorary doctorates, more than 20 Grammy Awards, and a Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime achievement in the arts. She ended her operatic career in 1985 in Aida at the Metropolitan Opera, but has continued performing. Her recordings are numerous and span a wide range of repertory. There are several collections of arias—operatic and concert—art songs, Christmas and patriotic songs, and a collaboration with Andre Previn on 12 pop songs, Right as the Rain. In late September 2001, Price emerged from retirement to participate in the Carnegie Hall “Concert of Remembrance,” held in honor of the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
KAY GEORGE ROBERTS (1950– ) Conductor, Violinist
Kay Roberts was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on September 16, 1950, and began her professional musical career as a violinist when she joined the Nashville Symphony during her last year in high school. She continued to play with the orchestra until she graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Fisk University in 1972. In 1971, she represented the Nashville Symphony in Arthur Fiedler’s World Symphony Orchestra. She earned a master of music degree in 1975, a master of musical arts in 1976, and a doctor of musical arts degree in 1986 from Yale University—the first woman and second African American to do so. During her second year of residency at Yale, Roberts’s talent as a conductor first came to the attention of her instructor and, thereafter, she focused on conducting rather than the violin.
Roberts has guest-conducted many orchestras including the symphonies of Nashville, Chattanooga, Indianapolis, Des Moines, Greater Dallas, and Chicago, in addition to the Cleveland Orchestra, the Mystic Valley Chamber Orchestra, and the Bangkok Symphony in Thailand. She became the music director of the New Hampshire Philharmonic in 1982 and of the Cape Ann Symphony Orchestra in 1986.
Roberts began teaching at the College of Music at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell in 1978. She has received numerous awards throughout her career including the 1991 Outstanding Achievement in the Performing Arts Award from the League of Black Women and the 1993 National Achievement Award from the National Black Music Caucus. She served as a fellow at Harvard University’s W.E.B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research from 1997 through 1999.
PAUL ROBESON (1898–1976) Singer, Actor
Born in Princeton, New Jersey, Paul Robeson was the son of a runaway slave who worked his way through Lincoln University and became a minister. Paul Robeson entered Rutgers College (now University) on an athletic scholarship and won a total of 12 letters in track, football, baseball, and basketball. His academic ability gained him another prize: Phi Beta Kappa honors in his junior year.
Robeson moved to New York City after graduation and began the study of law at Columbia University in 1920. He also began to act, and this profession eventually took precedence over a law career (he had been admitted to the New York State bar in 1923). He was cast in Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones in 1923 and, two years later, in All God’s Chillun’ Got Wings, gaining excellent reviews for both production. His rich singing voice, coupled with his strong interest in spirituals and international folk songs, led him to perform concerts in recital, first in New York and later in Europe and England. Besides enjoying great success on the London and Broadway stages, he also acted in several films in the 1930s and early 1940s. He became one of the first African American to depart from stereotypical film roles.
Robeson’s concern for racial justice came increasingly to the forefront in those years as well, and his travels to the Soviet Union convinced him of the honesty of that country’s statements regarding the equal treatment of all people. With the Cold War settling in after World War II, Robeson’s freely expressed views brought him into conflict with Congress and federal authorities, and, despite his denials, he was accused of being a communist. His career was effectively ended, and his passport was revoked in 1950—to be restored eight years later by a U.S. Supreme Court decision. He moved to England and traveled widely in Europe and the Soviet Union until 1963, when he returned to the United States. In 1971, his autobiography Here I Stand was published. He continued to be active in civil and human rights issues until his health began to fail in the 1970s. In 1998, he was posthumously honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
PHILIPPA (DUKE) SCHUYLER (1931–1967) Pianist, Composer
Born in New York City to an African American father and a white mother, Philippa Schuyler embodied her parents’ desire to prove to the world that the intermingling of the black and white races would result in a hybrid that would draw from the strengths of each line-age. She initially fulfilled their expectations: at the age of two and a half she could read and write; by age four she was composing music; and by age five she was performing Mozart. Her IQ, tested by New York University, was 185. She was given piano lessons at the age of three, and early in elementary school she began to study harmony, having already written dozens of piano pieces. She gave her first solo recital at the age of six. While Schuyler was studying throughout her childhood and adolescence, she had relatively little formal composition training, and that ended when she was 15. Among her teachers were Dean Dixon and Antonia Brico in conducting, Josef Hoffman, Paul Wittgenstein, and Gaston Dethier in piano, and Clarence Cameron White in violin.
With her parents pushing her career, the child prodigy wowed the critics in both the excellence of her playing and the quality of her compositions. Schuyler began to perform widely as a teenager and appeared as orchestra soloist and recitalist; several of her works were performed by orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, and the Detroit Symphony. She made three world tours, at first under U.S. State Department auspices, and received numerous awards throughout her career. Among them was a 1939 World’s Fair Medal as one of the “Women of Tomorrow,” an Award of Merit from the Fair in 1940, a Distinguished Achievement Award from the National Negro Opera Company Foundation in 1955, gold and silver medals from Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia, in 1955, and, after her death, the establishment of a memorial foundation in her name.
However, despite her successes, Schuyler’s appeal to white America faded as soon as she entered young adulthood. Stung by the racism she had not encountered as a child, Schuyler left the United States to travel the world and played for numerous foreign dignitaries. In spite of the acclaim she received outside of the United States, the rejection she experienced in America was a bitter reminder that, regardless of her success abroad, she was still a second-class citizen back home. Her travels became a painful search for identity, which she attempted to reconcile through her fiction and non-fiction writing. She even adopted a different identity, claiming to be Felipa Monterro, an Iberian-American, in the hopes of gaining acceptance before white audiences in America. However, initial reviews of her concerts performed in Europe under this new identity were mediocre.
In 1967, Schuyler was killed in a helicopter crash in Da Nang Bay, South Vietnam, where she had gone to help in the rescue of some schoolchildren.
GEORGE SHIRLEY (1934– ) Singer
Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on April 18, 1934, tenor opera singer, George Shirley, moved to Detroit with his family in 1946. There he began music lessons, sang in church choirs, and played baritone in a local band.
In 1955, Shirley received his bachelor’s degree in music education from Wayne State University. Shortly thereafter, he was drafted and the next year became the first African American member of the U. S. Army Chorus. Following his discharge from the Army in 1959, he became the first African American appointed to teach music in a Detroit high school. He resumed his private voice lessons and eventually relocated to New York.
Though Shirley has won international acclaim for his performances with the world’s leading opera houses including Netherlands Opera, Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera at Convent Garden, San Francisco Opera, Chicago Lyric Opera, and Washington Opera, Shirley’s debut was with a small opera troupe at Woodstock, New York, in Die Fledermaus. His European debut was in Italy as Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Boheme. In 1961, after winning the Metropolitan Opera Auditions, he began 11 years of association with the Met. Shirley was the first black tenor and second African American male to sing leading roles with the Metropolitan Opera. In 1968, Shirley received a Grammy Award for singing the role of Ferrando in the prize-winning RCA recording of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte.
Over the span of his 40-year career, Shirley performed more than 80 operatic roles and appeared on the concert stage singing recitals and oratorios. Shirley is currently in demand as a narrator. In 1996, he narrated two poems by James Forsyth with music by the late Franz Waxman. His most recent narration was Three Places in New England by Charles Ives with the Chicago Symphony.
In addition to his success as a performer, lecturer and narrator, Shirley is also an educator. From 1980 to 1987, he served as a voice professor at the University of Maryland (College Park). In 1987, he joined the faculty of the School of Music at the University of Michigan where he is the Director of the Vocal Arts Division and the Joseph Edgar Maddy Distinguished University Professor of Music.
HALE SMITH (1925– ) Composer, Educator, Editor
Born June 29, 1925, Hale Smith is a native of Cleveland, Ohio. He attended the city’s public schools and earned bachelor (1950) and master (1952) of music degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Music. His only composition teacher, Marcel Dick, was a major influence, as were such jazz figures as Duke Ellington and Art Tatum.
In 1958, on his move to New York City, Smith began arranging for and collaborating with many different kinds of musicians including Chico Hamilton, Dizzy Gillespie, and Oliver Nelson. Active as a music editor and consultant from 1961, he worked for several music publishing companies—Marks Music and C.F. Peters, among them. He joined the faculty of the University of Connecticut at Storrs in 1970 and retired in 1984. In 1988, Hale Smith received the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award.
Smith has received over 20 commissions and many prestigious awards in the course of his career and has written frequently on many musical subjects. A few of his outstanding compositions are: Contours (1961); Ritual and Incantations (1974); Innerflexions (1977); Mirrors: Rondo-Variations for Two Pianos (1988); and A Ternion of Seasons for Instrumental Ensemble (1996). Among several works for concert band, some with pedagogical aims, are: Somersault: A Twelve Tone Adventure for Band (1964); Take a Chance: An Aleatoric Episode for Band (1964); and Expansions (1967).
Smith has used the general term “formal music” as a category for his instrumental, band, orchestra, vocal, and choral scores, and within them can be found, in varying degrees, techniques and idioms of African American music. Highly sensitive to instrumental “color” and, with a strong dramatic sense, he has consistently conceived of and found new ways to express a broad spectrum of musical ideas.
WILLIAM GRANT STILL (1895–1978) Composer, Conductor
William Grant Still was born in Woodville, Mississippi, and, because of his father’s untimely death, his mother moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he attended public schools. His family encouraged his interest in music, and he began to take violin lessons as a teenager. He attended Wilberforce University in Ohio, but left before receiving a pre-med degree to study at the Oberlin College Conservatory (Ohio).
Still began playing professionally in several bands, spent some time in the U.S. Navy, and moved to New York City to work for the Pace and Handy Music Company Band. He later became director of the classical division and then musical director for the Pace Recording Company. He had many opportunities to play in theater orchestras and to arrange for shows, radio programs, and the movies.
In the 1920s, Still studied with two very different kinds of composers: first, the traditionalist George Chadwick, who was at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, and then Edgard Varèse, a leading member of the avant-garde. This broad experience in Western European music expanded his compositional horizons and complemented his African American musical heritage. He was a student of and apologist for black vernacular music in both his musical and academic writings.
Still believed that folk music was the richest source for sounds needed to make American music stand apart from the European models that had dominated composed music. In his attempt to be instrumental in defining an “American sound,” Still spent his life collecting, studying, and analyzing the many melodies and rhythms of the ethnic groups that make up the Western hemisphere. Although he arranged folk songs, especially African American spirituals, for various instrumental and choral combinations, he used the scales and rhythms derived from them as his primary source of inspiration in his larger forms. Still chose to compose his own melodies and to harmonize them using the richly stacked chords of jazz and blues. He wanted to elevate the blues by using its characteristic structures in symphonies, ballets, and operas.
Still’s Afro-American Symphony, 1930 (revised 1969), was the first of five symphonies that he wrote. In 1931, it was the first large orchestral work to be performed by a major orchestra, the Rochester Philharmonic, under the direction of Howard Hanson. One of his eight operas, Troubled Island, was the first by an African American composer to be staged by a major U.S. company, the New York City Center’s Opera Company, in 1949. Another opera, Bayou Legend, was the first by an African American composer to be telecast nationally over the Public Broadcasting Service in 1981. He was one of the most prolific composers of his generation and was active as a composer into the early 1960s.
Still was among the accomplished artists whose work will always be associated with the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s, and he and Duke Ellington are the leading composers of that movement. A term by which he was often characterized is “the dean of Afro-American composers,” and his achievements as a composer testify to the validity of that title.
HOWARD SWANSON (1907–1978) Composer
Howard Swanson was born in Atlanta to a family in which there were several educators, including his mother. He and his siblings were given music lessons and sang in church; however, it was only with the family’s move to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1918, that he studied the piano formally. Although Swanson began to work for the U.S. Postal Service after high school in order to help support his family, he entered the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he studied composition with Herbert Elwell and earned a bachelor of music degree in 1937.
Through a Rosenwald Fellowship that he received in 1938, Swanson was able to go to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger at the American Academy in Fontainebleau. His study was interrupted by World War II, and he returned to the United States in 1941. After the war, he returned to Europe until 1966, when he made his permanent home in New York City. By this time, he had been receiving commissions and his works were being performed. In 1950, for example, Marian Anderson sang his setting of Langston Hughes’s The Negro Speaks of Rivers (1942) at Carnegie Hall, and his Short Symphony (1948) was premiered by the New York Philharmonic. This symphony won the New York Music Critics’ Circle Award in 1952. He wrote steadily into the 1970s, and his works continued to be performed by a wide variety of ensembles and soloists. Swanson’s work is most often characterized as “neoclassic,” yet his heritage of African American music and traditions is the basis of his musical language. The largest percentage of his compositional output is vocal music; he never wrote an opera or music for the theater.
SHIRLEY VERRETT (1931– ) Singer, Actress, Educator
Born on May 31, 1931, in New Orleans, Louisiana, Shirley Verrett moved to California at the age of 11. Her father was her first voice teacher, and her earliest musical experiences were in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. She briefly attended Oakwood College and Ventura College, where she majored in business administration.
By the mid-1950s, she began taking voice lessons in Los Angeles and trained her sights on the concert stage. After winning a television talent show in 1955, she enrolled at the Juilliard School on a scholarship and earned her bachelor’s of music degree in 1961. She made her New York City opera debut in 1957 in a production of Lost in the Stars, and she returned to the city in 1964 to sing the title role in Bizet’s Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera. By then, she had performed the role in Spoleto, Italy, Moscow, and had appeared in several concert versions of the opera. The New York Herald Tribune’s critic claimed her Carmen as one of the finest “seen or heard” in New York for the past generation.
Verrett’s yearly recital tours took her to major music centers throughout the country. Between 1983 and 1986, Verrett lived in Paris and had a series of operas staged especially for her by the Paris Opera including, Rossini’s Mose, Cherubini’s Medee, and Gluck’s Iphigenie en Tauride and Alceste. She made a triumphant return to the Metropolitan Opera in 1986 as Eboli in Don Carlo and also starred that year in a new production of Macbeth with the San Francisco Opera. In the 1987–1988 season, Verrett made her long-awaited Chicago Lyric Opera debut as Azucena in Il Trovatore.
In the mid-1990s, Verrett turned her career to dramatic acting. She was featured in a major Broadway revival of Rodger and Hammerstein’s Carousel. Since 1996, she has held the position of the James Earl Jones Distinguished University Professor of Music at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Verrett also teaches during summer months at Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, Italy.
GEORGE WALKER (1922– ) Pianist, Educator
George Walker, born into a musical family in Washington, D.C., began piano study at the age of five. He attended public schools in Washington—during which time he was also a student in the junior division of the Howard University School of Music. Later, Walker earned a bachelor of music degree at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music (Ohio) in 1941. His graduate education included two artist diplomas—one in piano and one in composition—from the Curtis Institute of Music, where he was a student of Rudolph Serkin and Rosario Scalero in 1945; a diploma from the American Academy at Fontainebleau, France, in piano in 1947 (he also studied there in the 1950s with Nadia Boulanger); and a doctor of musical arts degree and artist diploma from the Eastman School of Music in 1957. He made his debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy in 1941 in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, and his New York recital debut at Town Hall in 1945.
Walker’s very promising career as a concert artist began to shift toward teaching and composition in the mid-1950s. After brief tenures at Dillard University, the Dalcroze School of Music, the New School for Social Research, Smith College, and the University of Colorado, he joined the faculty of Rutgers University in 1969, where he remained until his retirement in 1992. Besides many works for piano, including four sonatas, he has written for several other instruments, chamber and full orchestra, solo voice, and chorus. Among his numerous honors and awards are several honorary doctorates and two Guggenheim Fellowships, along with a large number of commissions. Walker received the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award in 1982. In 1996, he won the Pulitzer Prize in Music for Lilacs for Soprano or Tenor and Orchestra, based on a text by Walt Whitman—the first for a living African American composer. He was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in 2000.
A master of twentieth century musical techniques, Walker shows a deep connection in his works with his African American musical heritage, especially spirituals and jazz. He once stated, “I believe that music is above race. I am steeped in the universal cultural tradition of my art. It is important to stress one’s individuality beyond race, but I must do it as a black person who is aspiring to be a product of a civilized society.”
WILLIAM C. WARFIELD (1920– ) Singer
Baritone William Warfield was born on January 22, 1920, in West Helena, Arkansas, and later moved with his family to Rochester, New York. The son of a Baptist minister, he received early training in voice, organ, and piano and, in 1938, while a student at Washington Junior High School, won the vocal competition at the National Music Educators League Convention in St. Louis, Missouri.
Warfield studied at the Eastman School of Music and received his bachelor’s degree in 1942. He made his recital debut at New York’s Town Hall in 1950 and, afterwards, made an unprecedented tour of Australia under the auspices of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. A year later, he made his film debut in the movie version of Jerome Kern’s Showboat and also performed the role of Joe on the stage in several productions. He also has appeared on several major television shows and starred in the NBC television version of Green Pastures. He became identified with the role of Porgy in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in the 1950s and later. He married his co-star Leon-tyne Price during the 1952–1954 touring revival of the opera; they were divorced in 1973.
In 1974, Warfield accepted a position as professor of music at the University of Illinois School of Music in Urbana. He retired in 1990 as chairman of the voice faculty and has since been a visiting professor at Eastern
Illinois University and an adjunct professor of music at Northwestern University.
Warfield has been active in the National Association of Negro Musicians, serving as its president in 1984. He has served also as a board member of the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the New York College of Music; a trustee of the Berkshire Boys Choir; a member of the music panel of the National Association for the Arts, and a judge for the Whittaker Vocal Competition of the Music Educator’s National Conference.
Among honors that Warfield has received are honorary doctorates from the University of Arkansas, Boston University, and Milliken University. He won a 1984 Grammy Award in the spoken word category for his recording of Aaron Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait. He has appeared frequently with orchestras as soloist and narrator and has been teacher and mentor to many younger singers.
ANDRÉ WATTS (1946– ) Pianist
One of America’s most gifted pianists, André Watts was the first African American concert pianist to achieve international stardom. Born June 20, 1946, in Nuremberg, Germany, of a Hungarian mother and an African American soldier, he spent the first eight years of his life on U.S. Army posts in Europe before moving to Philadelphia. By the time he was nine years old, he was already performing with the Philadelphia Orchestra. After graduating from Lincoln Preparatory School in Philadelphia and attending the Philadelphia Academy of Music, he enrolled at Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory of Music.
In 1962, when Glenn Gould was unable to appear as soloist with the New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein chose Watts as a last-minute replacement. At the conclusion of his performance of Liszt’s E-flat Major Piano Concerto, the 16-year-old Watts received a standing ovation, not only from the audience but also from the orchestra.
From the mid-1960s on, Watts has toured the world as a recitalist and has appeared with leading orchestras in the United States and abroad. He has also been a frequent performer of chamber music. His recordings continue to be popular and his performances of works by Liszt and other romantic composers have been especially notable.
Watts was awarded the Lincoln Center Medallion (1971), honorary doctorates from Yale University (1973) and Albright College (1975), and the National Society of Arts and Letters Gold Medal (1982). He performed a concert in 1988 telecast nationally in honor of the 25th anniversary of his New York Philharmonic debut. Watts remains one of the world’s “greatest in demand” pianists, both as recitalist and concert soloist.
CLARENCE CAMERON WHITE (1880–1960) Violinist, Composer, Conductor, Teacher
Clarence Cameron White, born in Clarksville, Tennessee, moved with his widowed mother to his grandparent’s house in Oberlin, Ohio. They were musically inclined and encouraged their grandson in his musical interests. With his mother’s remarriage, the family moved to Washington, D.C., where he studied violin with Will Marion Cook and Joseph Douglass. A period at the Oberlin College Conservatory (Ohio) ended without a degree, and he began working in the Washington public schools and the Washington Conservatory of Music.
White became acquainted through correspondence with the British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and performed with him in concert during one of Coleridge-Taylor’s American tours. White later studied with him in London, through the aid of an E. Azalia Hackley scholarship.
After his return from London in 1911, White had a heavy schedule of touring, composing, and teaching. He was a founding member of the National Association of Negro Musicians in 1919. In 1924, he settled at West Virginia State College as head of the music department but left in 1930 to study composition with Raoul LaParra in Paris on a Rosenwald Fellowship. On his return to the United States in 1932, he chaired the music department of Hampton Institute (which was discontinued in 1935).
In 1937, White was named a music specialist for the National Recreation Association, established by President Roosevelt under the aegis of the Works Progress Administration. The association’s responsibility was to offer aid in organizing community arts programs.
Through these moves and teaching positions, White’s catalog of compositions was growing. He wrote, not surprisingly, many works for violin, some of which are teaching pieces. His most performed works have been Bandanna Sketches (1918) and From the Cotton Fields (1920). The most ambitious of White’s compositions is the opera Ouanga, a three-act opera with a plot revolving around the historical figure Dessalines who ruled Haiti and attempted to eliminate the practice of voodoo. White used the country’s folk music, especially rhythmic dance patterns, with which he had become familiar through a visit to Haiti, while casting its structure in a Western European, late nineteenth-century framework. Completed in 1932, the premiere was staged in 1949 by the Burleigh Musical Association in South Bend, Indiana. White became the first African American to receive the Bispham Medal after a performance in 1932.
CAMILLA WILLIAMS (1918– ) Singer
When Camilla Williams, an operatic lyric soprano, signed with the New York City Center Opera, she became the first African American to have a contract with a major American opera company. She sang the title role of Cio-Cio San in Puccini’s Madame Butterfly in her May 1946 debut with the New York City Center Opera. In effect, Camilla Williams opened the door for many other African American opera singers including Marian Anderson. Williams was born in Danville, Virginia, on October 18, 1918, and studied at Virginia State College (now University) where she received her B.S. in 1941. After graduation she competed and won several vocal competitions, most notably the Marian Anderson Fellowships in 1943 and 1944. These awards enabled her to study with private voice teachers in New York. Prior to her debut with the New York City Center Opera, Williams performed on the RCA national radio network. During her more than six years with the New York City Center Opera she performed other leading roles including Nedda in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, Mimi in Puccini’s La Bohéme, and Verdi’s Aida. In April 1954, Williams once again broke the color barrier when she became the first African American to sing a major role with the Vienna State Opera, performing her signature role of Cio-Cio San. Her distinguished career in opera was complemented by her equally accomplished work as a concert artist who performed throughout the United State, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and South America. In 1977, Williams became the first African American professor of voice at Indiana University’s School of Music. She continued in that position until 1997 when she officially retired. Though retired, Williams still teaches some private students. She resides in Bloomington, Indiana with her husband, Charles T. Beavers, an attorney.
OLLY WOODROW WILSON (1937– ) Composer, Educator
Olly Wilson, born in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 7, 1937, was educated in public schools. He studied the piano and clarinet at an early age and played in his church choir and in the high school band. He graduated from Washington University, in his hometown, with a bachelor’s degree, and pursued graduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana and the University of Iowa, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1964. In 1974, he was awarded the prestigious American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award.
The diversity of Wilson’s interests and breadth of his vision are indicated by his study of electronic music in 1967 at the University of Illinois—he won the Dartmouth Arts Council Prize in the International Competition for Electronic Compositions with Cetus in 1968—and his trips to Ghana in 1971 and 1978, for study of African music.
In 1970, Wilson joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley, where he has held several positions including associate dean of the graduate division and department chair. Not only has he been a prolific composer, but he has also written many articles on various aspects of contemporary music in general and African American music in particular.
Beginning in the 1970s, Wilson has written mostly in the orchestral medium and has received over 20 commissions. Some of them include: Akwan for piano/electric piano and orchestra (1972); Lumina for orchestra (1981); Of Visions and Truth for vocal soloists and chamber orchestra (1990–1991); Hold On for orchestra (1997–1998); and Spirit Song for soprano, double chorus, and orchestra, which the composer described as “about the evolution and development of the black spiritual.” His musical style is all-encompassing. He has mastered the Western European, twentieth century tradition, African American vernacular music, and African rhythmic and pitch practices.
European classical music is both a topic of research and a source of ideas for social science. It can be studied as a set of specialized professions, an economic system, or an example of small-group interaction processes. As a source of ideas it helps social scientists reconsider classical social-science theories of culture types and the rise and fall of civilizations that have fallen out of favor but have much to contribute.
As Europe developed, technologically and socially, to become the dominant civilization in the world, its music also developed, embodying many of the same cultural tendencies that led to the spectacular success of this small region. One can chart the developments in complex vocal and orchestral music from roughly 1600, when a late–Italian Renaissance attempt to revive ancient Greek music drama led to the creation of grand opera, or starting as early as 1200, when music began to express European nationalism. An example is the 1228 “Palestina Song” by Walther von der Vogelweide, celebrating the Sixth Crusade’s capture of Jerusalem.
For centuries, among the most complex machines were European musical instruments: church organs, harpsichords, and pianos. Among the most complex civilian activities on earth were performances of major European musical works, such as Claudio Monteverdi’s 1607 opera L’Orfeo, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B-minor completed in 1749, and Ludwig van Beethoven’s 1824 Ninth Symphony. Coordination of such complex social activities required a system of musical notation far more advanced than possessed by any other civilization, division of labor among many highly skilled professionals, development of musical theory tied to mathematics and aesthetics, and strict discipline within a social system that rewarded individual achievements by composers, conductors, and soloists.
From the Crusades until World War I, European music evolved in a rather linear direction, for example, first gradually rationalizing musical scales until the time of Bach, and then progressively exploiting the chromatic possibilities of the well-tempered scale, notably in Richard Wagner’s 1859 Tristan and Isolde. These were made possible by technological developments, such as from increasingly complex harpsichords to the powerful eighty-eight-key modern piano and the addition of valves to brass instruments. Serious music had reached the limits of progress in this direction in Arnold Schoenberg’s ponderous oratorio Gurre-Lieder, first performed in 1913, the same year that Igor Stravinsky’s dynamic Rite of Spring sought to revive the European spirit through an influx of primitivism. To a very real extent, war brought an end to the European dream in 1914. Schoenberg’s response was to develop a system of atonal composition that was either a rejection of the European sense of melody or the fulfillment of the European evolution toward chromaticism in harmony. His mathematical twelve-tone method based a piece on a tone row, a series of the twelve tones of the octave, not repeating one until the other eleven had been played. He attempted to compose an entire religious opera, Moses und Aron, based on a single tone row representing God’s law. Schoenberg was unable to finish this work, and although many composers adopted his system, Stravinsky among them, it marked the effective end of European classical music rather than a new beginning.
European classical music illustrates the theory of Oswald Spengler, who argued that each great civilization begins with a unified set of ideas, builds on them, and attains their logical conclusion, at which point the civilization collapses. Pitirim Sorokin described this cycle of birth and death as a gradual shift from the original set of ideas that flourish in the civilization’s ideational or growth phase, to the gradual loss of faith that comes in the sensate or decline phase, which could be followed by another ideational phase.
Crosscutting these cyclical theories was Friedrich Nietzsche’s explicitly music-based theory of competition between Apollonian and Dionysian styles—roughly intellectual versus intuitive, or what Curt Sachs called ethos and pathos— as in the difference between Bach and Wagner. Following an information-theory approach, Leonard Meyer has argued that listeners develop expectations about what is to come next in music, both in a single work and within a broad tradition, and creativity violates these expectations. Thus, novelty gradually expanded the scope of European music, often by alternating between Apollonian and Dionysian extremes, leading in the twentieth century either to collapse or to a fluctuating stasis. The fact that every feature of European music differs from other traditions, such as the Arabic or Chinese, dovetails with Samuel Huntington’s theory that the world is not converging on one “modern” culture but faces a clash of civilizations.
SEE ALSO Civilization; Civilizations, Clash of; Culture, Low and High; Distinctions, Social and Cultural; Division of Labor; Music; Music, Psychology of; Nationalism and Nationality; Professionalization
Bainbridge, William Sims. 1985. Cultural Genetics. In Religious Movements, ed. Rodney Stark, 157-198. New York: Paragon.
Grout, Donald Jay, and Claude V. Palisca. 2006. A History of Western Music, 7th ed. New York: Norton.
Hubbard, Frank. 1965. Three Centuries of Harpsichord Making. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Huntington, Samuel P. 1996. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Lorraine, Renee Cox. 2001. Music, Tendencies, and Inhibitions: Reflections on a Theory of Leonard Meyer. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
Meyer, Leonard B. 1994. Music, the Arts, and Ideas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. 1872. The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner. New York: Vintage, 1967.
Pollens, Stewart. 1995. The Early Pianoforte. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Sachs, Curt. 1946. The Commonwealth of Art: Style in the Fine Arts, Music, and the Dance. New York: Norton.
Sorokin, Pitirim A. 1941. Social and Cultural Dynamics. New York: American Book Company.
Spengler, Oswald. 1918. The Decline of the West. 2 vols. New York: Knopf, 1945.
William Sims Bainbridge
Western classical music has commemorated death in ritual and pondered it in concert works. A deeper relationship to death exists in the very syntax of Western harmony.
Origins of Classical Music
Western art music has its origins in the system of tonality developed in the Medieval Church. That system, which grew out of the church modes, consists of two or more tones sounding at once in a pattern of tension and release ("dissonance" and "consonance"). This was unique among the musical forms of the globe until the twentieth century when Western tonality, through popular music, essentially preempted other local musical forms.
This dominating pattern of tension and release means that Western tonality, unlike all other known musical systems, mimics a natural cycle of birth/growth/decay/death/new birth. The simplest chord progression initiates a home key (birth), develops relationships to other keys by venturing from the home key (growth), reaches a knot of dissonance requiring relief (decay), and finally resolves to the home key again (death, with an implied rebirth). In other cultures, ritual and art music sought to transcend the natural process through hypnotic repetition or intricate, non-tonal patterning. Western classical music embraced it, and accompanied the rise of material science.
Death is built into the syntax of Western music. When portrayed as the subject of a composition, mortality has certain specific musical characteristics; the mood is somber, the tonality almost always minor, and the tempo slow. Yet the most famous recurring death motif in classical music, the Dies Irae, which dates to the Dark Ages, is more sinister than somber. Its text, "Day of wrath, day of doom," conjures the Christian last judgment in its most horrible aspect. The first eight notes are distinctive, with or without the sung text, and they fit into the format of many common chords and progressions. Composers, therefore, have employed the Dies Irae often, both in sung works (the text forms part of the Requiem Mass which has been set to music by countless composers) and in purely instrumental contexts. The Russian post-Romantic Sergei Rachmaninov employed it almost obsessively, not only in appropriate works such as his tone poem, Isle of the Dead, but in such unlikely places as the playful pages of the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.
The Requiem Mass is probably the largest and most dramatic classical musical form borrowed from ritual. Composers who set its Latin text for use in concert rather than liturgy have included Palestrina, Vittoria, Mozart, Cherubini, Berlioz, Faure, Bruckner, Verdi, and Stravinsky. Brahms, vigilantly Protestant, composed a German Requiem to biblical rather than Catholic liturgical texts. The Passion, a liturgical text relating the death of Jesus Christ, has also been used by composers as concert works. Two extraordinary Passions by Johann Sebastian Bach (one According to St. John, another According to St. Matthew ) belong at the pinnacle of the repertoire.
Another smaller and more universal ritual that became an instrumental form was the funeral march. Mozart's Masonic Funeral Music, the second movement of Beethoven's Symphony no. 3 ("Eroica"), and the penultimate movement of Chopin's B-flat minor Piano Sonata, are excellent examples. The latter has become boilerplate, often simply referred to as "The Funeral March." Mahler used funeral marches throughout his oeuvre, perhaps most spectacularly (and unexpectedly) in the opening movement of his Symphony no. 5.
Death Myths of the Great Composers
Death holds a prominent place in the mythos of great composers. Existential defiance was a favored theme for composers dying in the nineteenth century. Beethoven died at age fifty-six, reputedly shaking his fist at a clap of thunder as at God. Schumann went insane and walked into the Rhine to drown himself; the attempt failed. Recent, controversial scholarship seems to support the idea that Tchaikovsky, long thought to have died from accidentally contracted cholera, committed suicide on the discovery of his homosexuality. The truth of his death has yet to be established beyond doubt.
The number of composers who died young is greater even than that of great poets. In addition, their modes of death were diverse and often disturbingly colorful or mysterious. The most famous case is that of Mozart. The theories of Mozart's death, numerous and ever-growing, have become a part of the composer's identity. The most notorious is that Mozart was murdered by his rival Antonio Salieri, which was the subject of a play by Alexander Pushkin and an operatic setting by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov nearly a century before it became the subject of Peter Shaffer's play (later made into a popular film) Amadeus.
Mozart was thirty-five when he died in 1791. Franz Schubert was thirty-one years old when he died in 1828; syphilis was the probable cause. Chopin and Mendelssohn both died before their fortieth birthdays. The dubious prize for the youngest death of a composer with any still-active repertoire goes to the eighteenth-century Belgian Guillaume Lekeu, who succumbed at age twenty-five to an intestinal infection brought about by tainted ice. Charles-Valentin Alkan, a nineteenth-century French composer of exorbitantly difficult piano music, was also a Talmudic scholar who died when his bookshelves collapsed and the heavy volumes of his library crushed him. The Second Viennese school of Arnold Schoenberg and his students were obsessed with number. When Schoenberg's great student Alban Berg suffered an insect bite that infected him, Berg calculated his chances based on a personal numerology, and died on the day he predicted.
In 1937 the musicologist Alfred Einstein put forth the theory that great composers die with a "swan song," a final masterpiece before death. He supported this idea with numerous examples, including Bach, whose masterful Art of the Fugue was left unfinished at death, and Mozart, who left behind the trunk of a Requiem, begun shortly before he died. The theory hardly applies universally, however, and it is ironic to note that the single terminal work actually titled "Swan Song," was a compilation of Schubert songs slapped together posthumously by a publisher looking to trade on the sensation of it.
Though George Frideric Handel, Franz Josef Haydn, Franz Liszt, and Giuseppe Verdi all lived and worked past seventy, composers who enjoyed their full share of three-score-and-ten are rare before 1900. Twentieth-century composers who lived and thrived into their eighties include Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Leos Janacek, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Elliott Carter.
See also: Dance; Folk Music; Mahler, Gustav; Operatic Death
Einstein, Alfred. "Opus Ultimum." Musical Quarterly 23 (July 1937):269–286.
Landon, H. C. Robbins. 1791, Mozart's Last Year. New York: Schirmer Books, 1988.
Levinson, Jerrold. Music in the Moment. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997.
Neumayr, Anton. Music and Medicine. 2 vols. Bloomington, IN: Medi-Ed Press, 1994–96.