Rhapsody in Black

Edmond Dédé is the first published Creole composer of color

Edmond Dédé was a free-born Creole American composer.The Historic New Orleans Collection

Rhapsody in Black - Edmond Dédé


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May 04, 2023

Composer Edmond Dédé is a free Creole of color conductor and violinist from New Orleans. Born in 1827, he lived through the Mexican–American War and American Civil War, neither of which stopped him from composing. Archivist at Xavier University in New Orleans Lester Sullivan wrote in the liner notes from Dédé’s only Naxos release:

“He studied violin with Constantin Debergue, a local free black violinist and director of the local Philharmonic Society founded by free Creoles of color sometime in the late antebellum period, and with Italian-born Ludovico Gabici, director of the St. Charles Theater orchestra and one of the earliest publishers of music in the city. He studied counterpoint and harmony with Eugène Prévost, French-born winner of the 1831 Prix de Rome and conductor of the orchestra at the Théâtre d'Orléans, and with New York-born free black musician Charles Richard Lambert, father of Sidney and Lucièn Lambert, and a conductor of the Philharmonic Society, which was the first non-theatrical orchestra in the city and even included some white musicians among its one hundred instrumentalists, an extremely large aggregation for the time.”

Musical selections from Edmond Dédé

‘Mon Pauvre Coeur’ (‘My Poor Heart’)

‘My Poor Heart’ is the first published song by a New Orleans Creole of color.

When I see you, oh! my blond creole!
On your balcony
Oh! I believe I see a lively halo
ornating your face
Holy child each day I implore you
with ardor|
To share the flame that consumes
my poor heart.

If you would like, notwithstanding your opulence,
to love only me:
You should tell me so, in order to relieve my suffering
I am here for you...
listen to me cherished idol
listen to me
When I tell you that my soul takes wing
always towards you
always towards you!

I have suffered too much. I have no more hope
for the future.
I have suffered too much in my short existence.
I want to die.
After my death, come sweet dove
For my unhappiness,
come to my grave or my tomb sometime
to pour out your tears!
To pour out your tears!

Selections from the opera Morgiane

This audio is from a 2017 concert by the University of California Davis Department of Music. It features selections from the never-performed opera, Morgiane. It is one of the earliest full-length operas by a Black composer. This concert also has pieces from Berlioz, Liszt and Ravel.

Méphisto Masqué

Dédé composed the Méphisto Masqué in the 1860s for solo ophicleide and orchestra. No longer in use, the ophicleide. Today the ophicleide is no longer used in modern performances, and this work is performed on the euphonium. It is an exciting solo work for the low brass instrument with a haunting opening section, a lively polka and an energetic coda.


Host: Vernon Neal

Producer: Dan Nass

Writers: Andrea Blain and Scott Blankenship

Additional music selections: Jeffrey Yelverton

Executive Producer: Julie Amacher