Black Composers


Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George (1745 - 1799): born in Guadeloupe, raised and lived and worked mostly in France. Was also a fencer. Knew Mozart, and Mozart used one of St.-Georges’s musical motives in his own piece. St.-Georges conducted successful orchestras, incorporated virtuosity in his violin technique, and was friends with Queen Marie Antoinette. Listen to some of his music here!

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875 - 1912): born and raised outside of London. Took violin lessons from his maternal grandfather, and the family sends him to the Royal Conservatory of music, where he excels in violin and composition. His early hit, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, brought him recognition and fame, but not money. He traveled to the USA three times in his short life, and wrote romantic music. Listen to his violin concerto here!

Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins (1849 - 1908): a blind, enslaved composer who was on the spectrum, Blind Tom was a musical prodigy who learned music by ear. In his life, he gave many concerts and toured the world performing. He had over 6000 pieces of music memorized, and composed many pieces for piano, as well as songs. His performances brought in large sums of money, but neither Blind Tom nor his family received a penny of it. Listen to his epic, musically advanced Battle of Manassas here!

Scott Joplin (1868 - 1917): known as the father of Ragtime, he was a multi-instrumentalist and a composer of mostly piano music, as well as two operas, one of which is lost. His most famous rag, The Maple Leaf Rag, brought him fame and steady money throughout his life, but not enough to fully survive. The failure of his opera Treemonisha sunk him into a deep depression, and he died soon after. Listen to his sensitive rag Solace here!

Florence Price (1887 - 1953):
a gifted pianist and composer from a young age, she becomes the first woman of color to have an orchestral piece performed by a major symphony orchestra. After graduating from the New England Conservatory of music in Boston, she moves to the south, but leaves for Chicago after a lynching made her feel unsafe. It was here where she encounters her most successful student, Margaret Bonds, whose family gets her through hard times. While many of her works were performed in her lifetime, Price struggled to break into the standard orchestral programming circuit. Much of her music was almost lost, until a box was recently found. Now many scholars are working to get her music and her name into history books, as well as the hearts and minds of Classical music lovers. Listen to her award-winning Symphony in E minor here!

Margaret Bonds (1913 - 1972): born and raised in Chicago in an upper middle class household, Bonds’s career included performing, collaborating, and composing. Her family was upper middle class, and regularly invited the luminaries of the day into their home, such as Langston Hughes. Bonds wanted to study with one of the famous teachers of her time, Nadia Boulanger. But Boulanger told Bonds that her music was mature, and she did not need further study. Bonds’s last major work, Credo, received its world premiere in 1972, conducted by Indian conductor Zubin Mehta. Listen to one of her songs here!

George Walker (1922 - 2018): born in Washington DC, Walker was a boundary-breaker in many ways. As a pianist, he was world-renown, giving concerts globally throughout his life. He knew that the color of his skin would prevent him from being successful as a pianist alone, and decided to embrace his interests in composition while he was a student. He achieved many “firsts” in his career, most notably being the first composer of color to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Music. His compositional voice ranges from melodic and lyrical music to complex, atonal music. His most popular work is his Lyric for Strings, which you can listen to here!

Renee’ C. Baker (b. 1957): a multi-faceted artist, Ms. Baker is a visual artist, violinist, violist, improviser, conductor, and composer, whose musical practice includes jazz, free jazz, Classical music, live painting, movement, and more. After playing principal viola with the Chicago Sinfonietta (under the baton of Paul Freeman) for 25 years, she began her own ensemble, the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project. Because of her involvement in so many diverse aspects of creation, Ms. Baker tours the world constantly for various projects. One of her grandest projects is creating scores to silent films, and she has conducted many ensembles performing her scores live to screenings of these films. She is a member of the acclaimed AACM. Listen to her difficult, powerful piece We Cannot Be Afraid here!

Other Names:
Ignatius Sancho (1729 - 1780) - click for more info
William Grant Still (1895 - 1978) - click for more info
L. Viola Kinney (1890 - 1945) - click for more info
Julia Perry (1924 - 1979) - click for more info
Dorothy Rudd Moore (b. 1940) - click for more info
Ed Bland (1926 - 2013) - click for more info
Trevor Weston (b. 1967) - click for more info
Elizabeth A. Baker - click for more info
Hannah Kendall (b. 1984) - click for more info
Shelley Washington (b. 1991) - click for more info

Other Resources:
Castle of our Skins -
AfriClassical -