August 27, 2018


George Walker, Trailblazing American Composer, Dies At 96 (TOM HUIZENGA, 8/24/18, NPR)

"His music is always characterized by a great sense of dignity, which is how he always comported himself," says composer Jeffrey Mumford, who, as a music professor at Lorain County Community College in Ohio, uses examples of Walker's music in his classes. "His style evolved over the years; his earlier works, some written while still a student, embodied an impressive clarity and elegance."

Walker was a trailblazing man of "firsts," and not just because of the Pulitzer. In the year 1945 alone, he was the first African-American pianist to play a recital at New York's Town Hall, the first black instrumentalist to play solo with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the first black graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

The following year, Walker wrote his first string quartet. In 1990, he revised the second movement into a new piece, Lyric for Strings, which has become his most often-performed work.

In 1996, Walker broke new ground again when he became the first African-American composer to win a Pulitzer Prize for music. Lilacs for voice and orchestra, set to a text by Walt Whitman, is a moving meditation on the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

George Theophilus Walker was born June 27, 1922 in Washington, D.C. to a father from the West Indies and a mother who started him off with piano lessons at age five. At 14, Walker gave his first public recital at Washington's Howard University. In 1937, he entered Oberlin College in Ohio on a scholarship and graduated at age 18. He then enrolled at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied piano with Rudolf Serkin and composition with Samuel Barber, graduating in 1945. In the late 1950s, he traveled to Paris to study for two years with the famous pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. (Her other students ranged from Aaron Copland to Quincy Jones.)

Mumford likes to recall a story about Walker's Paris years with Boulanger. "She was so impressed with his musicianship that she waived the regular requirements she made of students," Mumford says. "He could bring anything he wanted to show her at lessons."

Posted by at August 27, 2018 1:17 PM