Greetings Jacobs Students, Staff and Faculty,
June is both Pride Month and Black Music Month, and I can think of no better place to celebrate both than the Jacobs School of Music. Black and LGBTQ+ artists have contributed so much to the soundtracks of our lives. This month it is important to not only celebrate our fellow LGBTQ+ colleagues and friends, but to do our part to serve as allies and friends to the LGBTQ+ community as they continue to fight for equal rights.
In addition, as the fight for racial justice and equity continues, it is equally important to serve as allies and friends to our Black colleagues and friends and celebrate the accomplishments and contributions Black people have made to music in the United States.
I wanted to take a moment and highlight LGBTQ+ & Black composers and honor the gifts they have shared with the world:
Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)
Ethel Smyth was a prolific composer and an active member of the women’s suffrage movement, and she made no secret of her relationships with women.
Born in South-East London, Smyth studied at the Leipzig Conservatory and there met composers that included Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Clara Schumann and Brahms. Her best-known works are the opera The Wreckers and her Mass in D.
Her 1911 song, ‘The March of the Women’, which had lyrics by Cicely Hamilton, was dedicated to movement leader Emmeline Pankhurst – documented to have been a lover of Smyth’s – and became the official anthem of the Women’s Social and Political Union and women’s suffrage activism around the world.
Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
New York-born composer, Aaron Copland, was one of the many renowned composition students of Paris Conservatoire’s Nadia Boulanger, whose roster of composition, performance and conducting students pretty much dominated 20th century music – from Astor Piazzolla, Philip Glass and Quincy Jones, to Daniel Barenboim and John Eliot Gardiner.
Samuel Barber (1910-1981)
Barber won the Pulitzer Prize for Music twice – in 1958 for his opera Vanessa, and again in 1963 for his Piano Concerto.
His Adagio for Strings was one of the first works by an American composer to be championed by the indomitable Arturo Toscanini, and featured famously in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film, Platoon.
Jennifer Higdon (December 31, 1962 – )
A professor at the Curtis Institute of Music, Higdon is recognized as one of the classical world’s most celebrated contemporary composers. She won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto and a 2009 Grammy Award for her Percussion Concerto. Her first opera, Cold Mountain, receives its world premiere at the Santa Fe Opera in August 2015.
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745 – 1799)
Dubbed ‘le Mozart noir’ (‘Black Mozart’), the Chevalier de Saint-Georges is remembered as the first classical composer of African origins.
Born to a wealthy plantation owner and his African slave, Saint-Georges was a prolific composer who wrote string quartets, symphonies and concertos in the late 18th century. He also led one of the best orchestras in Europe – Le Concert des Amateurs – and former US president John Adams judged him “the most accomplished man in Europe”.
Florence Price (1887 – 1953)
Florence Price was the first African-American woman to have her music performed by a major symphony orchestra – in 1933. A music critic from the Chicago Daily News heard the work, performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and declared it “a faultless work, a work that speaks its own message with restraint and yet with passion… worthy of a place in the regular symphonic repertoire.”
Born in Arkansas in 1887, Price was a deeply religious person, and brought the music of the African-American church into her music – as well as influences from the likes of Dvořák, Tchaikovsky and other European Romantic composers. Hear some of her songs here and here, and the Concerto in One Movement here.
Scott Joplin (1868 – 1917)
Dubbed the ‘King of Ragtime’, Scott Joplin was one of the most important and influential composers at the turn of the 20th century. His ideas around harmony, as well as his complex bass patterns and sporadic syncopation, are still imitated by composers today.
Joplin’s untimely death, caused by syphilis which descended into dementia, marked the end of ragtime and a sad lapse in interest around his music. But his compositions were rediscovered and rose to popularity again in the early 1970s, when Joshua Rifkin released an extremely successful album of his pieces. This was followed by the Academy Award-winning 1973 film The Sting that used several of Joplin’s compositions, including ‘The Entertainer’ and ‘Solace’.
William Grant Still (1895 – 1978)
Still’s career is a story of firsts: dubbed ‘The Dean’ of African-American composers, he was the first African American to conduct a major American symphony orchestra, the first to have an opera produced by a major opera company (the New York City Opera), the first to have a symphony (his First Symphony) performed by a leading orchestra, and the first to have an opera performed on national TV.
Still composed more than 150 works in his lifetime, including five symphonies and eight operas, the most famous of which is his ‘Afro-American’ Symphony No. 1. He also found time to moonlight as an oboist, conductor and jazz arranger.
Wynton Marsalis (born 1961)
Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis is one of the biggest stars in jazz, but his inventive and infectious jazz, gospel and spiritual-infused compositions have become some of the most important new works to hit classical concert halls.
In 1997, Marsalis became the first jazz musician to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music with his oratorio Blood on the Fields.
(bios provided by ClassicFM)
I encourage you all to celebrate these musicians and add their works to your repertoire if they aren’t already there.
When we celebrate and embrace our differences, we can see each other for all of who we are and appreciate all of our gifts.
Happy Pride and Black Music Month!
Sachet Watson, M.S.
Diversity & Inclusion Coordinator