Composers Datebook®

Betty Jackson King

Composers Datebook - Feb. 17, 2024


Today marks the birthday of American composer, choral conductor and educator Betty Jackson King. She was born in Chicago in 1928, where she earned her master’s degree in composition at Roosevelt University. Her master’s thesis was an opera, Saul of Tarsus, whose libretto was written by her father, the Rev. Frederick D. Jackson.

King is perhaps best known for her sacred and choral works, especially her arrangements of spirituals, and, according to her family, her musical career reflected her deep religious faith. “Over my head, I hear music in the air, so there must be a God somewhere,” was her oft-stated creed.

King also wrote secular works, including a ballet for children, chamber works, art songs and solo pieces for piano and organ. She was an active teacher and choral conductor in her native Chicago before moving to Wildwood, New Jersey, where she taught, conducted and composed for the rest of her life.

A few years before King’s death in 1994, soprano Kathleen Battle performed and recorded "Ride-Up in the Chariot,” one of Jackson’s spiritual arrangements, at a televised Carnegie Hall concert of spirituals conducted by James Levine.

Music Played in Today's Program

Betty Jackson King (1928-1994): Spring Intermezzo, fr Four Seasonal Sketches; Helen Walker-King, vn; Gregory Walker, p. Leonard 339

On This Day


  • 1653 - Italian composer Arcangelo Corelli, in Fusignano (near Imola);

  • 1820 - Belgian composer Henri Vieuxtemps, in Verviers;

  • 1862 - English composer Edward German (Jones) in Whitechurch;

  • 1887 - Finnish composer Leevi Madetoja, in Oulu (Uleaborg);

  • 1920 - American composer Paul Fetler, in Philadelphia;

  • 1926 - Austrian composer Friedrich Cerha, in Vienna;

  • 1926 - American composer Lee Hoiby, in Madison, Wis.;


  • 1732 - French composer and organist Louis Marchand, age 63, in Paris;

  • 1841 - Italian composer and guitarist Ferdinando Carulli, age 70, in Paris;

  • 1924 - Finnish composer Oskar Merikanto, age 55, in Hausjärvi-Oiti;

  • 1970 - American composer and conductor Alfred Newman, age 69, in Los Angeles;

  • 1982 - American Jazz composer and pianist Thelonious Monk, age 64, in Englewood, N.J.;


  • 1728 - Handel: opera “Siroe, re di Persia” (Cyrus, King of Persia), in London at the King’s Theater in the Haymarket (Gregorian date: Feb. 28); This was the first Handel opera with a libretto by Metastasio;

  • 1792 - Haydn: Symphony No. 93, conducted by the composer, at the Hanover-Square Concert Rooms in London;

  • 1855 - Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 in Eb, in Weimar, with the composer as soloist and Hector Berlioz conducting;

  • 1859 - Verdi: opera "Un Ballo in Maschera" (A Masked Ball), in Rome at the Teatro Apollo;

  • 1889 - Franck: Symphony in d, in Paris;

  • 1901 - Mahler: oratorio "Das Klagende Lied" (Song of Lamentation), in Vienna, with composer conducting;

  • 1904 - Puccini: opera “Madama Butterfly,”in Milan at the Teatro alla Scala;

  • 1914 - Ernst von Dohnányi: "Variations on a Nursery Song" for piano and orchestra, in Berlin, with the composer as soloist;

  • 1927 - Deems Taylor: opera "The King's Henchmen," at the Metropolitan Opera in New York;

  • 1943 - Copland: "Music for Movies," at a Town Hall Forum concert in New York City;

  • 1947 - Copland: "Danzón Cubano" (orchestral version), by the Baltimore Symphony;

  • 1948 - David Diamond: Violin Sonata No. 1, at Carnegie Hall in New York, by Joseph Szigeti (violin) and Josef Lhevinne (piano);

  • 1952 - Henze: opera "Boulevard Solitude," in Hanover at the Landestheater;

  • 1961 - Elie Siegmeister: Flute Concerto, in Oklahoma City;

  • 1977 - Elliott Carter: "A Symphony of Three Orchestra," by the New York Philharmonic, Pierre Boulez conducting;

  • 1982 - George Perle: "Ballade" for piano, at Alice Tully Hall in New York, by Richard Goode.

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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.

About Composers Datebook®