Leonard Bernstein, 1918-1990
Biography. Leonard Bernstein's engagement with, and contributions to, the musical culture of his time was as remarkable for its breadth of perspective as for its depth of commitment. His contributions as a composer, conductor, teacher and writer – all performed with seemingly limitless energy, enthusiasm and insight – earned for Bernstein the notoriety of being, during his lifetime, the most public figure in the...
Arthur Farwell (1872-1952)
Biography. Although Arthur Farwell did not intend to pursue a professional career in music, he became one of America's most influential composers, with over 100 compositions to his name. He is best known for his works based on Native American themes; however, he also used cowboy tunes, African-American spirituals, and Spanish-Californian melodies as the basis of his compositions. Initially, his musical style reflected a...
H. T. Burleigh (1866-1949)
Biography. Although his name is relatively unknown, Harry Thacker Burleigh (named Henry after his father) played a significant role in the development of American art song, having composed over two hundred works in the genre. He was the first African-American composer acclaimed for his concert songs as well as for his adaptations of African-American spirituals. In addition, Burleigh was an accomplished baritone, a meticulous...
Will Accooe (d. 1904)
Biography. Biography. Will Accooe (18??-1904) was an important songwriter during the birth of the black musical. By 1896, Accooe was working as musical director for John Isham's Octoroons, a successful and popular quasi-minstrel troupe. At the Nashville Exposition of 1897 his "Tennessee Centennial March" was one of the biggest hits of the approximately 450 compositions by black composers played by E. C. Brown in...
Alton A. Adams
Biography. Biography. Alton Augustus Adams, born in the Virgin Islands in 1889, remains an iconic figure there. When the United States took over the islands in 1917, the new governor appointed Adams chief musician. The band that Adams assembled entered the U.S. Navy as a unit, making Adams the first black bandmaster to serve in the U.S. Navy. He composed a great deal of...
Maurice Arnold, 1865-1937
Biography. Biography. Maurice Arnold was one of many African-American students of Antonin Dvorak during Dvorak's 1894 stay in the United States. Arnold participated in Dvorak's famous January 23, 1894, concert at the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. Arnold's four "American Plantation Dances" were performed at the conservatory and garnered him a small measure of fame. He was also the author of...
Eubie Blake, 1883-1983
Biography. Biography. Eubie Blake was one of the most important figures in early-20th-century African-American music, and one whose longevity made him a storehouse of the history of ragtime and early jazz music and culture. Born in Baltimore in 1883, Blake began playing piano professionally when he was 16; he wrote his first composition, "Sounds of Africa," (later retitled "Charleston Rag") around the same time....
J. Tim Brymn, 1881-1946
Biography. Biography. James Tim Brymn (1881-1946) was another talented musician and songwriter who took advantage of the rise of the black musical to expand the range of black music. Born in Kingston, North Carolina, Brymn was educated at Shaw University and the National Conservatory of Music in New York
Bob Cole, 1868-1911
Biography. Biography. Robert Allen Cole was born on July 1, 1868, in Athens, Georgia, the son of former slaves. Like Will Marion Cook and James Reese Europe, he became one of the most important composers of his generation, creating a model for other African-American musicians and composers. By 1891 Cole was a member of Jack's Creoles, a black minstrel company based in Chicago. Within...
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, 1875-1912
Biography. Biography. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born in Croydon, England, on August 15, 1875. His father, a doctor from Sierra Leone, was forced to return to his home country around the time of Samuel's birth because he was not permitted to practice medicine in England. Samuel remained in England with his mother.
Will Marion Cook (1869-1944)
Biography. Biography. Biography. One of the most important figures in pre-jazz African-American music, Will Marion Cook is also one of its better known personalities. As a composer, conductor, performer, teacher, and producer, he had his hand in nearly every aspect of the black music of his time and worked with nearly every other important musician in his fields. Uncompromising and difficult to work with,...
R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943)
Biography. Robert Nathaniel Dett was born in Drummondsville, Ontario, Canada, on October 11, 1882. His ancestors were among the slaves who escaped to the North and settled in that slave-founded town. In 1901, Dett began studying piano with Oliver Willis Halstead in nearby Lockport. Three years later he was admitted to the Oberlin Conservatory, where he majored in piano and composition. In 1908, Dett...
Shepard N. Edmonds, 1876-1957
Biography. Biography. Little is known of Shepard N. Edmonds, except that he published some music. He was part of a vaudeville team with J. Leubrie Hill which performed on the East Coast around 1898.
James Reese Europe, 1881-1919
Biography. Biography. Eubie Blake said of James Reese Europe, "He was our benefactor and inspiration. Even more, he was the Martin Luther King of music." Europe earned this praise by being an unflagging innovator not only in his compositions and orchestrations, but in his organizational ability and leadership. One of America's greatest musicians, he progressed from strength to strength but was pointlessly cut down...
J. Leubrie Hill (John Leubrie), d. 1916
Biography. Biography. John Leubrie Hill was born about 1869. Little is known of his early life, but by 1896, he was writing songs with Alex Rogers. He also acted and wrote songs for the Williams and Walker musicals in the first decade of the 20th century.
Billy Johnson, 1858-1916
Biography. Biography. Billy Johnson was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in1858 and was educated in Augusta, Georgia. By 1881 he was performing in minstrel shows. In 1886 he joined Lew Johnson's minstrels and the following year moved to Hicks and Sawyer's minstrels, where he stayed for six seasons. During stints with several other minstrel troops, he began writing songs and eventually landed a job...
J. Rosamond Johnson (John Rosamond), 1873-1954
Biography. Biography. John Rosamund Johnson was one of the more important figures in black music in the first part of the 20th century, usually in partnership with Bob Cole or with his brother James Weldon Johnson. While he is chiefly remembered today as the composer of the Black National Anthem, "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," he had a varied career as a pianist, songwriter,...
Biography. Biography. Joe Jordan (1882-1971) was born in Cincinnati, raised in St. Louis, and moved to Chicago in his youth. From 1900-05, Jordan concentrated on writing piano rags, but also contributed a song to Sons of Ham (1900).
Biography. Biography. John Larkins was a minor figure in black music in the early part of the 20th century. He ran "Jolly" John Larkin's Company and employed James Reese Europe as its musical director from 1906-07. In 1910 he produced and starred in A Trip to Africa. His other credits include Royal Sam (1911) and Deep Central (1932).
Biography. Biography. Sidney Perrin was a composer, actor, and producer for a few lesser-known shows both in the first heyday of black musicals (1898-1910) and its revival in the 1920s. He composed most of the music for The Colored Aristocrats (1909), including the songs "Why Moses Never Saw the Promised Land," and "Chocolate Mandy." This show starred the famous team of Flourney E. Miller...
Maceo Pinkard, 1897-1962
Biography. Biography. Composer Maceo Pinkard was born in Bluefield, West Virginia, in 1897. After his "Oh, You Darktown Regimental Band" was published in 1920 by the first black-owned music publishing company, Pace and Handy, Pinkard went on to write music for the shows Bon Bon Buddy, Jr. (1922), Liza (1922), and Broadway Rastus (1925 edition). He also composed several blues songs as well as...
Biography. Biography. Montague Ring was the musical pseudonym of Amanda Christina Elizabeth Aldridge (1866-1956). Her father, the great actor Ira Frederick Aldridge, was known as the "Black Roscius" and was famous for his portrayal of Shakespeare's Othello.
Luckey Roberts, 1887-1968
Biography. Biography. Charles "Luckeyth" Roberts (1893-1968) was an accomplished pianist and composer. Along with James P. Johnson, he is considered one of the founders of the Harlem stride piano "school." Roberts has been called "one of the hardest pounding colored players of any weight." One of his early compositions, "Ripples of the Nile" (1912), was restyled "Moonlight Cocktail" and became the theme of the...