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African Heritage in Classical Music

African Heritage in Classical Music

Here you will meet 52 composers, conductors and instrumental performers – Africans, African Americans and Afro-Europeans.  Many are alive today, but one lived 500 years ago!  These artists are unknown to most of us, yet are so numerous this site can  present only a fraction of them.  They have made enduring contributions to Classical Music. Several have composed, conducted and performed Classical Music.  Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799) of Guadeloupe is one of those multi-talented musicians.   Cuban classical guitarist Leo Brouwer (b. 1939) is another.  Over 100 sound samples can be heard at the Audio page and at the biographical pages.  The links at left lead to a Black History Quiz covering everyone profiled at the site and a Guest Book in which you are invited to leave your comments.

AfriClassical Blog  is a near-daily  companion to the website,  A blog post which refers to many Black composers is: Dominique-René de Lerma: Scholar of Black Classical Music for 40 Years.  It is an extended interview with Dominique-René de Lerma, a Professor of Music at Lawrence University Conservatory. He is a Musicologist who has specialized in Black Classical Composers and Musicians for four decades.  His research material on the lives of composers and musicians, along with his comprehensive Works Lists and Bibliographies, which often run to hundreds of entries, are  the heart of this website.  In the interview Prof. De Lerma recounts many of his interactions with students who have profited from his wisdom and support.  Visit the blog often to learn of current issues involving Composers and Musicians of African Descent!

Audio of Webmaster Bill Zick on WDET 101.9 FM,
Listen to a 9 1/2-minute radio essay on, introduced by Front Row Center host Celeste Headlee on Detroit Public Radio.

Audio of Bill Zick on Michigan Radio, 91.7 FM Ann Arbor, 104.1 FM Grand Rapids and 91.1 FM Flint
Here is the audio of the story on by Jennifer Guerra of Michigan Radio.  Ms. Guerra interviewed Bill Zick, visitor Susan Taylor of Ypsilanti and Afa Sadykhly, Vice President of Programming of the Sphinx Organization.  To reach both text and audio of the broadcast visit, click on the Arts tab at upper left, then search for AfriClassical Music on the Arts page.

Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Arion 68093 (1990)

Composers of African Descent
Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges was a very fashionable composer, violinist and conductor as well as Colonel of Black volunteers in the French Revolution.  The U.S. composer and arranger William Grant Still blended jazz and the Blues in his emblematic Afro-American Symphony.  Another 39 composers have been selected from Brazil, Canada, Cuba, France, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, South Africa, the U.K. and the U.S.  Quality links provide access to still more biographies.

Girma Yifrashewa

Musicians of African Descent
Ludwig van Beethoven wrote his Bridgetower Sonata to display the talents of a violin virtuoso, George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower. Before the work was published, the two had a falling out and the work was renamed the Kreutzer Sonata! Girma Yifrashewa saw a piano for the first time at age 16, yet he became the first Ethiopian classical pianist to tour widely in Africa.  Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins was a musical genius born into slavery in 1849, blind and autistic.  Nearly all of his enormous earnings went to slave owners, and later to guardians, even after Emancipation.

John Blanke
(Copyright BBC)
Black History and Classical Music
The Black trumpeter John Blanke served England’s Kings Henry VII & VIII.  A tapestry shows him performing in 1511.  Ignatius Sancho was born  on a slave ship near West Africa, and was soon orphaned. He was raised as a house slave in England but escaped at age 20.  Before long he was a composer, anti-slavery activist and author of   A Theory of Music.  A Black History Quiz includes interesting facts on all 52 composers and musicians.
Audio Samples
The Audio page features over 100 samples of music by 33 composers, conductors and instrumental performers.

Black Opera and Concert Singers; A Resource Book 
is the working title of a book in progress by Dominique-René de Lerma, Professor of Music at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, and former Director of the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago.  He wishes   to alert schools, studio teachers, singers, managers, and an interested public that he is seeking information on current or past professional opera singers and recitalists.  He intends to include data on the more than 1,600 figures (already identified) that have been active in recitals and opera (including musical theater).  This includes performers from outside the U.S. There will also be a directory to more than 700 operas by Black composers.    The manuscript presently runs more than 1,000 pages.  It will not include excerpted quotations of critics or biographies.  Please pass this information on to other interested persons.  As soon as Professor De Lerma is comfortable that the field is well covered, the manuscript will be delivered to the publisher.


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