Julius Eastman’s personal philosophy was “to be what I am to the fullest — Black to the fullest, a musician to the fullest, and a homosexual to the fullest.”
He rose to prominence in the New York music community as a pianist and composer. His debut recital was mostly his own music and he also had a beautiful baritone voice. It wouldn’t have been unusual to see him perform with Pierre Boulez and the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center.
Eastman’s music is brilliant, mischievous, sometimes irreverent and frequently challenging. Music he wrote in the 1970s is considered his most controversial. He created thought-provoking compositions that don't match the titles at all. Words like “crazy,” “dirty” and “evil,” followed by the worst slur for a Black person you can use. By leaning into stereotypes and slurs, he engaged questions of racism and homophobia head on.
While Eastman was unleashing his unabashed music to the world, his personal life began to spiral. His behavior became more and more unpredictable and erratic. Some suspected that drugs were involved, or perhaps it was the development of mental illness.
It’s impossible to know just how much music Eastman wrote, since most of it was literally thrown into the street when he, and all of his belongings, were evicted from his East Village apartment.
After living in homeless shelters and then drifting for some time, he died alone in a Buffalo hospital. Cardiac arrest was given as the cause of death.
Today, there's renewed interest in his music because of his views on music and its role in social justice.
Host: Vernon Neal
Producer: Dan Nass
Writers: Andrea Blain and Scott Blankenship
Executive Producer: Julie Amacher
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