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…