Rhapsody in Black

George Walker is a composer of many firsts

Composer George WalkerUniversity of Rochester

Rhapsody in Black - George Walker


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June 02, 2022

George Walker is credited with many firsts throughout his career. He was the first Black graduate of the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia in 1945, the first Black doctorate recipient from the Eastman School and, most importantly, the first Black composer to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize, for his 1996 work Lilacs. It’s a vocal work with words by Walt Whitman, reflecting on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Despite all his success, his career was still greatly stunted by racism and neglect.

Musical selections from George Walker

Icarus in Orbit

Commissioned by the New Jersey Youth Symphony to celebrate its 25th anniversary, Icarus in Orbit portrays the story of Icarus’ flight and fall in a musical style that is both inspiring and exciting.

Lyric for Strings

Lyric for Strings is Walker’s most performed work. It is dedicated to his grandmother, who was formerly enslaved. This work helps to remind us that slavery in the United States was not that long ago.

Lilacs for voice and orchestra: I

This Pulitzer Prize-winning piece honors the life of Abraham Lincoln by setting Walt Whitman’s elegy for the president, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, to music.


Host: Tesfa Wondemagegnehu

Producer: Dan Nass

Writers: Andrea Blain and Scott Blankenship

Executive Producer: Julie Amacher