Black Composers Forum

 

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Composers by year, both of birth and general activity.

1700-1800

1800-1900

1900-2000

Alphabetical list by last name

A    B    C    D    E    F    G    H    I    J     K    L    M    N   O    P    Q    R  S    T    U    V    W    X   Y    Z

 

Spreadsheet of composers (sorted by date)

 

Black composer database links

Institute for Composer Diversity

 Music by Black Composers

Afri-Classical--African Heritage in Classical Music

Reference reading

International Dictionary of Black Composers. Samuel A. Floyd Jr., ed. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn. 1999. ISBN 9781884964275 

Green, Mildred Denby. Black women composers: a genesis. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1983 ISBN 9780805794502. OCLC 7248595. 

Walker-Hill, Helen. From spirituals to symphonies : African-American women composers and their music. University of Illinois Press, 2007. ISBN 9780252074547 

Samuel A. Floyd, Jr (ed.), Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990 

Southern, Eileen. Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1982. 

Crawford, Richard. America's Musical Life: A History. W. W. Norton & Co., 2001 ISBN 0-393-04810-1

 

 

 

George Bridgetower (1778-1860)

Welcome to the forum! In June 2020 I started trying to educate myself about the music and experience of black composers by posting an almost daily entry on my Facebook page.  Here in the forum, they are loosely organized by period (see links in box to the right), and I will also post a link to a spreadsheet I am keeping as a resource for musicians looking to explore.  To view all the entries, click on "View all posts" as the thumbnail section is limited and only shows the 24 most recent posts.  Content is added frequently, so please check back often, and/or follow me on Facebook.  

Joseph Bologne/Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Joseph Bologne, aka the Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745 – 1799) was a champion fencer, classical composer, virtuoso violinist, and conductor of the leading symphony orchestra in Paris. Born in the French colony of Guadeloupe, he was the son of George…

Mary Watkins

Mary Watkins (1939-), American composer and pianist, has written for orchestra, opera, chamber ensembles, jazz ensembles, film, theatre, dance, and choral groups.  She was trained classically at Howard University and has received several grants from the National Endowment for the…

Michael Mosoeu Moerane

Something to read, and something to listen to. 

Michael Mosoeu Moerane (1904-1980) was born in Mangoloaneng, a village in the district of the Eastern Cape of South Africa. His father, descended from a long line of Basotho chiefs, was an…

Anthony Kelley

As I’m exploring music in this series #blackcomposers, I am experiencing a weird sense of loss when I realize a composer whose works I admire had lived or worked in the same city as I had at some point in…

Edward Bland

Listening to the music of Ed Bland (1926-2013)  transports me my youth growing up in New York City in the 70s.  His use of texture in instruments and rhythms to build tension and energy is probably the greatest factor, but…

Francis Johnson

There is a question about the birthplace of Francis Johnson (1792-1844), a performer of the bugle and violin.  Some sources cite Martinique, while some say Philadelphia. Regardless, by his early 20s he was building a reputation as a bandleader in…

Adolphus Hailstork

(condensed from the composer's biography page )

Adolphus Cunningham Hailstork (1941-) born  in Rochester, New York, began his musical studies with piano lessons He studied at Howard University and Manhattan School of Music. After returning from service in the U.S…

Errollyn Wallen

Errollyn Wallen (1958-) is a Belize-born British composer. She was the first black woman to have a work performed at The Proms ("Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra"). Her output includes eighteen operas, oratorios, concerti, chamber works, large orchestral works, songs…

Samuel Coleridge Taylor

In the foreword to the 1969 edition of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Musician, His Life and Letters, Blydon Jackson writes: 

“American Negroes who were born in the earlier years of this century grew up in black communities where the name of Samuel…

William Grant Still

So much has been written about the life of William Grant Still (1895-1974) that I can't do it justice. “I am waiting patiently,” he said in his autobiography, “for that man who wrote the book about how most Negro Spirituals…

Eleanor Alberga

In 2017 when Janet Arms and I were running the 20/20 chamber ensemble at the Hartt School, I contacted Eleanor Alberga (1949- )  to see if we could do the U.S. premiere of her work “Animal Banter” for flute, guitar…

Zenobia Powell Perry

Zenobia Powell Perry (1908-2004) was born in what was once a predominantly African American town of Boley, Oklahoma to a physician, Dr. Calvin B. Powell and Birdie Thompson Powell (who had some Creek Indian heritage). Her family was well-educated and…

Ulysses Kay

Ulysses Kay (1917-1995), born in in Tucson, Az (and went to my high school), was the nephew of the New Orleans jazz legend and cornet player, Joe "King" Oliver, who influenced him in his formative years. After finishing his undergrad…

Undine Smith Moore

Today’s composer is Undine Smith Moore. (1904-1989)  You can read the details of her life by googling her, but here is an excerpt of a speech she made at the First National Congress of Women in Music in 1981: 

“I…

Edmond Dédé

Edmund Dédé (1827-1901) was born in New Orleans. His parents were free Creoles of color who moved to New Orleans from the French West Indies around 1809. Dede took his first music lessons from his father who was a bandmaster…

Nathaniel Dett

Canadian composer Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) was one of the many black composers that found their way to Oberlin. He was a double major in piano (studying with Howard Handel Carter, who also taught Jessie Covington Dent, another Black prodigy) and…

Margaret Bonds

Only 75 of the more than 200 compositions of pianist/composer Margaret Bonds (1913-1972) exist today. Of those 75 scores, only 47 were published during her lifetime. According to musicologist Helen Walker-Hill, in her book “From Spirituals to Symphonies: African-American Women…

Thomas Bethune

Thomas Greene Bethune a.k.a Thomas "Blind Tom" Wiggins 

Thomas Wiggins (1849-1908) was a blind autistic slave born into an enslaved family. Tom's father Domingo Wiggins, a field slave, and his mother Charity Greene were purchased at auction by James Bethune…

Ornette Coleman

So much has been written about jazz legend Ornette Coleman (1930-2015) that it is much better to read this snippet of an Atlantic article written in 1972, to hear him speaking for himself. 

"I started writing before I started playing,"…

Will Marion Cook

Another one of Dvorak’s students during his short time in America was Will Marion Cook (1869-1944). Cook's early career was focused on classical music. He was born to free African-American parents (his father became the first Dean of the Howard…

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Maurice Arnold Strothotte

Maurice Arnold Strothotte (1865-1937) was born in St Louis, Missouri. He later shortened his name to Maurice Arnold. His father was a physician and his mother a prominent pianist and his first teacher. At 13 he went to Cincinnati to…

Justin Holland

Justin Holland (1819-1887) was a 19th-century American classical guitarist. He was born to free black parents in Virginia.  After his parents’ deaths, the area was affected by the Nat Turner Rebellion (1831) which first led to a police bill that…

Ignatius Sancho

Ignatius Sancho (c.1729–1780) was born on a slave ship crossing the Atlantic from Africa to the West Indies. He was baptized Ignatius by a bishop in Carthagena. His mother died of an unknown disease, and his father committed suicide rather…

The Lambert Family

There were many free black and creole composers and musicians of New Orleans before the Civil War that moved to Europe to escape increasing racial tensions that not only were getting in the way of their careers, but their existence…