Britain, Radie (1903—)

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Britain, Radie (1903—)

American and first woman composer to have work performed at the White House, who created over 30 pieces for orchestra and 30 pieces for mixed chorus. Born near Amarillo, Texas, on March 17, 1903; daughter of Edgar Charles (a rancher) and Katie L. Britain; studied at the Clarendon College Conservatory of Music, the American Conservatory, as well as in Berlin and Munich; married Edgardo Simone, a sculptor (died); married Ted Morton.

Radie Britain was born on a ranch on the high plains in the Texas Panhandle, a wind-swept and desolate, but often dramatically beautiful, region of the American West, which inspired much of her music. Her parents, who had pioneered as cattle ranchers in the area, recognized their daughter's immense musical talent, and she was provided with the finest musical training. Though her father had said, "No daughter of mine will ever cross the ocean," once he recognized his daughter's determination he helped her to study in Europe. She made her debut as a composer in Munich when the baritone Erich Wildhagen sang several of her songs. A pioneer for American women composers in the 20th century, ironically, she was often mistaken for a man because of her name. In 1930, Britain won the International Award for composition and in 1945 she was the first woman ever to receive the prestigious Juilliard National Prize, for her composition Heroic Poem. This piece was dedicated to Charles Lindbergh's flight to Paris in 1929. In 1938, she became a member of the faculty of the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago.

In all, Britain wrote over 150 compositions for orchestra, chamber ensembles, stage works, choral, piano, violin, harp and voice. In the 1920s and 1930s, many of her works were performed by women's orchestras. These orchestras were created because women of the day were not allowed to perform in major symphony orchestras; this prohibition was later dropped when auditions began to be held behind curtains to force judges to choose on the basis of talent rather than sex.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia

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Britain, Radie (1903—)

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