Classical music can be easily generalized as a white, European art form. But the last 150 years proves that it’s an art that is more diverse and nuanced.
For example, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799), the son of a planter and his slave, was a virtuoso violinist and conductor of orchestras in Paris. And Beethoven wrote for the famous violinist named George Bridgetower, who was of African and Polish ancestry.
In the 20th century, classical music became an art form for anyone who wanted it.
Our series, African-American Voices, highlights the contributions of some of the most influential classical musicians of the U.S., who also happen to be black and in most cases overcame tremendous discrimination and hostility just to perform music.
Marian Anderson’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial is well-known, and there’s also Paul Robeson, a prominent activist and a popular singer. William Grant Still was the first African-American to have a major symphony performed by a major orchestra. Simon Estes had to turn down performances of Porgy (a black character) because opera houses wouldn’t give him other lead roles that weren’t tied to the color of his skin, and Leontyne Price lamented the few lead roles for African-American men in opera.
Their stories are an important part of our history as Americans. Their contributions to classical music in America are even more meaningful.
Listen below their work below:
Daniel Gilliam is the program director for WUOL 90.5, one of WFPL’s sister stations. African-American Voices airs on WUOL next week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.