Hinderas, Natalie (1927–1987)

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Hinderas, Natalie (1927–1987)

African-American concert pianist who was one of the first black artists to gain recognition in the field of classical music . Born Natalie Leota Henderson on June 15, 1927, in Oberlin, Ohio; died of cancer in August 1987 at her home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; daughter of Leota Palmer; earned a bachelor degree in music from the Oberlin School of Music, 1945; attended Juilliard School of Music, New York City; attended Philadelphia Conservatory of Music; married Lionel Monagas (a television producer); children: one daughter, Michele.

A child prodigy, acclaimed concert pianist Natalie Hinderas was born in Oberlin, Ohio, in 1927 into a musical family. Her father was a jazz musician with his own band, and her mother Leota Palmer a prominent conservatory teacher. "I grew up with music," she later recalled. "I listened to my mother practice. I still remember her playing Rubinstein's D minor Concerto and Franck's Prelude, Chorale and Fugue." Hinderas received her earliest piano lessons from her mother and, at age eight, was admitted to Oberlin School of Music. In 1945, she became Oberlin's youngest graduate and went on to study with Olga Samaroff at Juilliard. She later studied with Edward Steuermann at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music.

In 1954, at age 27, Hinderas made her New York debut at Town Hall, playing a program that included Chopin's Ballade in F minor and Mozart's Sonata in F. Despite favorable reviews, Hinderas, an African-American in the whitedominated field of classical music, had trouble getting her career off the ground. She fared better abroad and spent much of the 1950s and 1960s touring in Europe, Asia, and Africa. (Tours in 1959 and 1964 were sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, which appointed her a U.S. cultural ambassador.) During the 1960s, Hinderas also joined the faculty of Temple University in Philadelphia, where she would be professor of music until her death in 1987.

It was not until 1972 that Hinderas finally achieved recognition in the United States, making stunning debuts with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. Her performance of Ravel's Piano Concerto in G, with the Symphony of the New World, was praised in The New York Times for its "crisp precision and wonderfully infectious spirit." Hinderas went on to perform with all of the major orchestras in the country and record with leading labels. Best-known among her extensive repertoire were Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Schumann's Piano Concerto, and Rhapsody in Blue, by George Gershwin.

Once established, Hinderas used her stature to bring the work of blacks to attention. Her recording, Natalie Hinderas plays Music by Black Composers (1971), was one of the first anthologies of the work of African-Americans. In 1975, through a grant from the National Foundation for the Arts, she commissioned George Walker's Piano Concerto No. 1, which she first performed with the National Symphony Orchestra in 1976, receiving accolades from the Washington Post for her "sense of ease and … careful attention to the music's dramatic overtones." Hinderas, who was married to television producer Lionel Monagas and the mother of a daughter, Michele Monagas , continued to perform until her death of cancer at the age of 60.


Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. Notable Black American Women. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1992.