Black conductors

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James DePreist 1936–2013) was one of the first African-American conductors on the world stage. This picture shows him being congratulated by President George W. Bush after receiving the National Medal of Arts in 2005.

Black conductors are musicians of African, Caribbean, African-American ancestry and other members of the African diaspora who are musical ensemble leaders who direct classical music performances, such as an orchestral or choral concerts, or jazz ensemble big band concerts by way of visible gestures with the hands, arms, face and head. Conductors of African descent are rare, as the vast majority are male and Caucasian.

History

1800s

Charles-Richard Lambert (died in 1862) was a black American conductor for the Philharmonic Society, the first non-theatrical orchestra in New Orleans.[1]

1900s

File:Photograph of premiere concert of the Symphony of the New World at Carnegie Hall.jpg
Benjamin Steinberg conducting the premiere concert of the US's first racially integrated orchestra, the Symphony of the New World at Carnegie Hall on May 6, 1965.

In the early 1930s, African-American conductor Dean Dixon (1915—1976) found that his pursuit of conducting engagements was stifled because of racial bias. As a result, he formed his own orchestra and choral society in 1931. In 1940, African-American conductor Everett Lee and fellow African-Americans Dean Dixon and Canadian Benjamin Steinberg "...attempted to circumvent the institutionalised racism in American classical music by forming an orchestra of black musicians. But the project failed for financial reasons..." Steinberg established "...an orchestra of predominantly black players when he formed the Symphony of the New World in 1964." It was the first fully racially integrated orchestra in the US.

In 1945, Everett Lee was the "first African American to conduct a major Broadway production." Leonard Bernstein asked Lee to conduct On the Town, which marked the "...first time a black conductor led an all-white production."[2] In 1953, Lee was the "...first black musician to conduct a white symphony orchestra in the south of the States...in Louisville, Kentucky." [2] In 1955, Lee was the "...first musician of colour to conduct a major opera company in the US with a performance of La Traviata at the New York City Opera." In 1955 William Grant Still conducted the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra and became the first African American to conduct a major orchestra in the Deep South of the US. Henry Lewis (1932–1996) was the first African-American to lead a major symphony orchestra. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1972. Lewis found it hard to "...take on the role of an authoritarian conductor, because such a role was unacceptable for a black man" at this time.[3]

In the early 1950s, impresario Arthur Judson, head of Columbia Artists Management told Everett Lee that despite Lee's excellent reviews for conducting, a black conductor could not conduct a white orchestra in the US. Judson stated that black instrumentalists could play solo concertos with white orchestras, dance in white productions and sing in white productions, but leading a white orchestra was not feasible. Isaiah Jackson (born 1945) was the first black principal conductor of The Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, in 1986, and became its music director 1987–90.

2000s

According to a 2004 article in the Guardian, "black conductors are rare in the classical music world and even in symphony orchestras it is unusual to see more than one or two black musicians."[4] Canadian-born black conductor Kwamé Ryan, who studied music at Cambridge University and in Germany, made his professional conducting debut in 2004.[4] Ryan says the "...message given to young, black people, particularly in North America, was... that you can be a star athlete; you can be a pop star...[but the] possibility for black children [to become a conductor] is not encouraged in schools or in the media."[4] Ryan states that young blacks have a lack of "...exposure [to black conductor role models] and it is a deficit that is passed on from generation to generation."[4] Ryan said he has "...no optimism for the future."[4]

Notable individuals

Classical music

Historically, the vast majority of classical music conductors have been Caucasian. However, there are a small number of notable conductors who are of African, Caribbean or African-American ancestry:

  • Charles-Richard Lambert (died in 1862) was a black American musician, conductor and music educator. He and his family were noted for talent in music and gained international acclaim.[5] He worked as a music teacher and was a conductor for the Philharmonic Society, the first non-theatrical orchestra in New Orleans.[6] One of his notable students was Edmond Dédé.[7]
William Grant Still (1895–1978) was one of the first African Americans to conduct a major American symphony orchestra in the Deep South.
  • William Grant Still (1895–1978) was one of the first African Americans to conduct a major American symphony orchestra in the Deep South, the first to have a symphony (his first symphony) performed by a leading orchestra, the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company, and the first to have an opera performed on national television. As a classical composer, he wrote more than 150 compositions. After finishing college, he won a scholarship to study at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Between 1919 and 1921, he worked as an arranger for W. C. Handy's band. In the 1930s, he arranged music for many films. In 1955 he conducted the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra and became the first African American to conduct a major orchestra in the Deep South.
  • Everett Lee (born in 1913) "was [a]...violinist who led the orchestra in the original Broadway production of Carmen Jones and played the oboe on stage in the country club scene."[2] In 1945, he was the "first African American to conduct a major Broadway production." Leonard Bernstein asked Lee to conduct On the Town, which marked the "...first time a black conductor led an all-white production."[2] In 1946, Lee won a "Koussevitzky Music Foundation Award to conduct at Tanglewood."[2] In 1952, he was "appointed director of the opera department at Columbia University...and was also awarded a Fulbright scholarship that allowed him to travel to Europe.[2] In 1953, Lee was the "...first black musician to conduct a white symphony orchestra in the south of the States...in Louisville, Kentucky."[2] In 1955, he was the "...first musician of colour to conduct a major opera company in the US with a performance of La Traviata at the New York City Opera." He was appointed chief conductor of the Norrköping Symphony in Sweden in 1962. In 1976, he conducted the New York Philharmonic for the first time, and he performed a piece by African American composer "...David Baker to mark Martin Luther King's birthday." In 1979, he became music director of the Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra in Colombia.[2]
  • Dean Dixon (1915–1976) studied conducting with Albert Stoessel at the Juilliard School and Columbia University. When early pursuits of conducting engagements were stifled because of racial bias (he was African American), he formed his own orchestra and choral society in 1931. In 1941, he guest-conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic during its summer season. He later guest-conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 1948 he won the Ditson Conductor's Award. Dixon was honoured by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) with the Award of Merit for encouraging the participation of American youth in music. In 1948, Dixon was awarded the Alice M. Ditson award for distinguished service to American music.

Jazz and popular music

In jazz and popular music, the leader of an ensemble may also be called a bandleader.

David Baker (far left) leads the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra during the NEA Jazz Masters awards ceremony and concert in 2008.
Conductor Gerald Wilson leads a jazz big band

See also

Further reading

  • Handy, Antoinette D. Black Conductors. Scarecrow Press, 1995.

Notes and references

  1. Price, Emmett George (2010). Encyclopedia of African American music: Volume 3. p. 219.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 http://www.overgrownpath.com/2011/07/i-dont-believe-in-negro-symphony.html
  3. http://www.nytimes.com/1992/10/25/arts/l-black-conductors-a-symphony-of-stature-022692.html?_r=0
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2004/aug/10/edinburgh04.arts
  5. Macdonald, Robert R.; Kemp, John R.; Haas, Edward F. (1979). Louisiana's Black heritage.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Price, Emmett George (2010). Encyclopedia of African American music: Volume 3. p. 219.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Sybil Kein, Creole: The History and Legacy of Louisiana's Free People of Color, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000, pp. 80–82, accessed December 28, 2010
  8. 8.0 8.1 "James DePreist: Biography". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved February 8, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. PACO people
  10. The Harbus
  11. jrank.org
  12. Greenfield, Phil (February 5, 1998). Candidate Dunner has trio of talents; Diversity: Leslie Dunner, who is vying for the directorship of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, is a talented conductor, composer and clarinetist, The Baltimore Sun, Retrieved November 22, 2010
  13. Sisters in the Spotlight. Ebony. March 2003. Retrieved May 18, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Charlotte Higgins (August 10, 2004). "Black conductor fears he will remain exception". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  15. "Nommé directeur artistique et musical de l'Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine, Paul Daniel prendra ses fonctions en septembre 2013" (PDF) (Press release). Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine. July 15, 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. De Lerma, Dominique-Rene. "African Heritage Symphonic Series Vol. III". Liner note essay. Cedille Records CDR066.

Further reading

  • Michael Bowles: The Art of Conducting (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1959); English edition as The Conductor: His Artistry and Craftsmanship (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1961).
  • Larry G. Curtis and David L. Kuehn: A Guide to Successful Instrumental Conducting (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992); ISBN 978-0697126948.
  • Michel Faul: Louis Jullien: Musique, spectacle et folie au XIXe siècle (Biarritz: Atlantica, 2006); ISBN 9782351650387.
  • Elliott W. Galkin: A History of Orchestral Conducting in Theory and Practice (New York: Pendragon Press, 1988); ISBN 978-0918728470.
  • Norman Lebrecht: The Maestro Myth: Great Conductors in Pursuit of Power (2nd revised and updated edition, New York: Citadel Press, 2001).
  • Brock McElheran: Conducting Technique for Beginners and Professionals (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); ISBN 978-0193858305.
  • Ilya Musin: The Technique of Conducting (Техника дирижирования) (Moscow: Muzyka Publishing House, 1967).
  • Ennio Nicotra: Introduction to the Orchestral Conducting Technique in Accordance with the Orchestral Conducting School of Ilya Musin, book and DVD in English, German, Italian, Spanish (Milan: Edizioni Curci, 2007).
  • Frederik Prausnitz: Score and Podium (New York: W.W. Norton, 1983); ISBN 978-0393951547.
  • Max Rudolf: The Grammar of Conducting (New York: Macmillan, 2nd ed. 1981); ISBN 978-0028722207.

External links