Viewing: composers 1800s - View all posts

Clarence Cameron White

Born on this day (Aug 17)  in 1879 or 1880, Clarence Cameron White was a violinist and composer quite active in the first half of the 20th century. 

The story of how he came to study violin with Will Marion…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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Amanda Aldridge

There is not much recorded music of Amanda Aldridge (1866-1956), but her story and that of her family is perhaps even more interesting.  She was born the third child of African American Shakespearian actor Ira Frederick Aldridge and his Swedish…

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Florence Price

Florence Beatrice Price (1887-1953) was born in a racially-integrated community in Little Rock, Arkansas. Her mother was a school teacher and her father, the city’s only black dentist. At the age of four, she played in her first piano recital…

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Harry Burleigh

The story of Harry Thacker Burleigh (1866-1949) is one linked to that of Antonin Dvorak. 

Burleigh received his first musical training from his mother. As a youth, he was given a job as a doorman at the musical evenings hosted…

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William Levi Dawson

William Dawson (1899-1992) was born to a former slave. In 1912, Dawson ran away from home to study music full-time as a pre-college student at the Tuskegee Institute (now University) under the tutelage of school president Booker T. Washington. Dawson…

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Harry Lawrence Freeman

In researching the opera composer Harry Lawrence Freeman (1869-1954) again I come to a troubling theme running through accounts of all these black composers.  “First black composer to…” “the black Mozart” (referring to Chevalier de Saint-Georges/Joseph Bologne, who was born…

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