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Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Male | Composers

While not African American, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's talent and influence inspired countless composers in the United States, and lead to a flowering of inquiry into Black participation in classical composition.

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Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (August 15, 1875–September 1, 1912) was an English composer. Coleridge-Taylor was born in Croydon to a Sierra Leonean father and an English mother. He studied at the Royal College of Music under Stanford, and later taught and conducted the orchestra at the Croydon Conservatory of Music. There he married one of his students, Jessie Walmisley, despite her parents' objection to his half-black parentage. By her he had a son, Hiawatha (1900-1980) and a daughter, Avril, born Gwendolyn (1903-1998). He soon earned a reputation as a composer, and his successes brought him a tour of America in 1904, which in turn increased his interest in his racial heritage. He attempted to do for African music what Brahms did for Hungarian music and Dvo_ák for Bohemian music. He was only 37 when he died of pneumonia. Coleridge-Taylor's greatest success was perhaps his cantata Hiawatha's Wedding-feast, which was widely performed by choral groups in England during Coleridge-Taylor's lifetime, with a popularity rivaled only by chorus standards Handel's Messiah and Melssohn's Elijah. He followed this with several other pieces about Hiawatha: The Death of Minehaha, Overture to The Song of Hiawatha and Hiawatha's Departure. He also completed an array of chamber music, anthems, and African Romances for violin, among other works. Coleridge-Taylor was greatly admired by African-Americans; in 1901, a 200-voice African-American chorus was founded in Washington, D.C. called the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Society.


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