Throughout February, KBACH is shining a spotlight on black musicians who have made significant contributions to classical music. In particular, listen for works by these composers of African descent ...
Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-99)
Pictured above, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges was born in Gaudalupe, a French colony at the time, to a wealthy plantation owner and his wife's slave. Educated in France, Boulogne became a virtuoso violinist and the first known black classical composer. Mozart, while trying to establish his own career, is said to have admired (more like envied) Boulogne. By the way, the Chevalier is carrying a sword in his portrait because he was also a champion fencer!
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912)
Born to a white English mother and a Creole man from Sierra Leone, Coleridge-Taylor was a violinist, composer, and conductor. He's best remembered for his seemless melding of classical concert music with African-American folk music. He toured the United States three times, even playing at the White House for Theodore Roosevelt. Coleridge-Taylor was just 37 when he died of pneumonia.
Florence Price (1887-1953)
She was the first African-American woman to have her music played by a major orchestra. The Chicago Symphony performed her Symphony in E minor in 1933. Price was born in Arkansas and brought her deep religious roots to her work. You can often hear the influence of African-American church music in her compositions.
William Grant Still (1895-1978)
Often referred to in his time as the "Dean of Afro-American Composers," Still accomplished several firsts as an African-American: first to conduct a major American orchestra, first to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra, first to conduct a major U.S. orchestra, and the first to have an opera produced by a major company. In all, Still composed more than 150 works.
Fela Sowande (1905-87)
Born in Nigeria, Sowande studied in England, singing as a child in the Christ Church Cathedral Choir before earning his degree from the University of London. Sowande became the best-known Nigerian classical composer, famous for his blending of western music with African themes. You can hear his African Suite on KBACH.
Margaret Bonds (1913-72)
One of the first black composers to gain recognition in the United States, Margaret Bonds is best remembered today for her arrangements of African-American spirituals, and for her collaborations with poet Langston Hughes. She was the first black soloist to perform with the Chicago Symphony.
George Walker (1922-2018)
Born in Washington, D.C., Walker was a pianist, organist, and composer who became the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music (Lilacs, 1996). His most famous composition is Lyric for Strings, an arrangement for string orchestra of the second movement from his String Quartet No. 1. In 2000, Walker was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.