Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Saturday, April 6

Don Shirley

Synopsis

On today’s date in 2013, the Jamaican-American pianist and composer Donald Shirley died at age 86 in New York City.

His death set into motion a plan that had been long in the works: a movie based on Shirley’s concert tour to the deep South in 1962, accompanied by Tony “the Lip” Vallelonga, a bouncer at the famous Copacabana night club who Shirley hired for protection.

In the 1960s Shirley was at the height of his popularity as the leader of a jazz trio he founded after being told by the great concert impresario Sol Hurok a career as a classical pianist was impossible due to his skin color.

In the 1980s, Vallelonga’s son Nick told Shirley and his father he wanted to make a movie about the indignities they suffered during that 1962 tour and the life-long friendship that developed between them. Shirley agreed, but said only after his death. "'You should put in everything your father told you, and everything I told you,” said Shirley. "'You tell exactly the truth, but wait until I pass.'"

In 2018, five years after Shirley’s death, the film was released, titled GREEN BOOK, after a guide for Negro motorists listing hotels and restaurants open to them in segregated states. Fact-checkers confirm the film is largely accurate, and, yes, for over 50 years Shirley did live in an elegant apartment over Carnegie Hall, where his jazz trio often performed.

Music Played in Today's Program

Richard Rodgers (1902 – 1979) arr. Don Shirely (1927 – 2013) “This Nearly Was Mine,” from “South Pacific” Don Shirely, p; Juri That, vcl; Ken Fricker, db. Cadence LP CLP-25046

Additional Information

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