Composers Datebook®

Louis Ballard

Composer's Datebook - July 8, 2023


Today’s date in 1931 marks the birthday of the first notable Native American composer of concert music. His name was Louis Ballard, and he was born in Devil's Promenade in Oklahoma. His father was Cherokee, and his mother Quapaw.  

As a young boy Ballard attended – but managed not to be irreparably damaged by – one of those notorious boarding schools where Native American students were taught to forget everything about their own language and culture. Ballard somehow remained rooted in Quapaw language and traditions at the same time his interest in European classical music developed, and in 1962 became first American Indian to receive a graduate degree in music composition.

Inspired by the example of Bela Bartok, who incorporated the folk music of Eastern Europe in his works, Ballard attempted to do the same with Native American source material in concert works both large and small. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1971 and in 1974 his orchestral piece Incident at Wounded Knee was performed at Carnegie Hall and taken on an Eastern European tour by Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, who had commissioned the work.

This Louis Ballard chamber piece for two winds and piano is entitled “Mid-Winter Fires.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Louis Ballard (1931-2007): Mid-Winter Fires (Amy Morris, f; Mark Serrup, ob; Mary Goetz, p.) Indande Records 52352

On This Day


  • 1882 - Australian-born American composer and pianist Percy Aldrich Grainger, in Melbourne; He became a USA citizen in 1919

  • 1900 - American composer George Antheil, in Trenton, N.J.


  • 1839 - Spanish composer Fernando Sor, age 61, in Paris


  • 1940 - Randall Thompson: "Allelujah" at the opening of the Berkshire Music Center in Lenox, Mass.

  • 1942 - Sir Lenox Berkeley: Symphony No. 1 in London, conducted by the composer

  • 1987 - Judith Weir: opera "A Night at the Chinese Opera" in Cheltenham, England

  • 1988 - Philip Glass: opera "The Making of the Representative for Planet 8" (after a sci-fi novel by Doris Lessing), by Houston Grand Opera

  • 2000 - John Williams: "TreeSong" for Violin and Orchestra, at Tanglewood with Gil Shaham and the Boston Symphony, composer conducting


  • 1588 - English composer and lutenist John Dowland receives B. Mus. Degree from Christ Church, Oxford

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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