On today’s date in 1904, the Washington Post’s headline read, “Hiawatha Tonight: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Masterpiece to be sung at Convention Center.”
The 29-year old British composer himself, on his first visit to America, was to conduct the 200 members of the Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society of Washington DC, accompanied by the Marine Band orchestra.
So who was this British composer and what had he done to inspire an American chorus to name itself after him?
Coleridge-Taylor was born in 1875 to an African father from Sierra Leone and an English mother. Showing remarkable musical talent, he studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and rapidly established himself as a major choral composer with a trilogy of oratorios, all based on Longfellow’s epic poem “Hiawatha,” that became wildly popular in England, but the 1904 concert in Washington DC was the first time all three had been performed on the same concert.
The Coleridge-Taylor Society of Washington DC was America’s first African-American concert choir. Attending the Washington performance were many members of the Federal government and distinguished members of both black and white society.
Music Played in Today's Program
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875 – 1912)Hiawatha's DepartureWelsh National Opera Chorus and Orchestra; Kenneth Alwyn, cond.Argo 430 956
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