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Black Contributions to Music: Classical

As music listeners and lovers, we may forgot the importance behind the history of music. In lieu of the Black Lives Matter movement, I want to highlight some of the incredible influences by black musicians to music in general through this series. We will start by looking at some influential black composers and influences to classical music by black artists. 

  1. Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Saint-Georges was the first classical composer of African origin. He was also a violinist and conductor of a leading symphony orchestra in Paris. He’s most remembered for composing many string quartets and musical compositions for multiple operas. 

  1. George Bridgetower

Bridgetower was an Afro-European virtuoso violinist. He began as an extremely successful young musician who traveled across Europe performing. He was a protégé of Beethoven, but is often forgotten in history despite his talent, most likely because of his racial identity. He also created his own compositions. 

  1. Florence Price

Florence Price was the first African-American woman to have her composition performed by a major symphony orchestra. Living in Arkansas with her husband, she faced much racial discrimination. The couple moved north after racial tension led to a lynching nearby, to Chicago, where Price completed her first compositions. Price’s music combines traditional European classical with melodies inspired by African-American folk music. Price and her work are often overlooked based on her race, so most of her music is not available online, though you can hear some of her compositions on YouTube. 

  1. Thomas Wiggins

Thomas Wiggins, known as “Blind Tom,” was one of the most well-known 19th century pianists and composers. He was a musical prodigy and was the highest paid pianist of the 19th century by the age of 10. He created over a hundred piano compositions. Despite his relevance during this time, he is relatively unknown today, especially compared to his white musical counterparts. 

  1. George Walker

Walker was an African-American musician who broke ground in the musical world, known for influencing the world of black classical music. He was the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize for music, first black graduate of his college, and first black musician to play New York’s Town Hall. He’s known for his beautiful and moving string compositions. 

Today, there is still obvious evidence of discrimination clouding the talent of black classical musicians. There’s still a blatant lack of representation within classical performances. Artists like Florence Price have reshaped the sound of American classical music despite the many obstacles; as listeners we must acknowledge their contributions and work against the institutional racial bias within music. Next time you are in the mood for classical music, remember the contributions of black musicians that shaped music today. 

– Miranda