Focus on Black History Month – George Walker

Along with those Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the first Coffee Concert of the New Mexico Philharmonic on Friday, February 11th at 10:45 a.m. will feature a work by another Black composer, George Walker. His beautiful Lyric for Strings should not be missed.!

Photo by Frank Schramm

African-American composer, pianist and organist, George Walker is one of the most important figures in American classical music of the 20th and 21st
centuries. He won the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1996 for his Lilacs – the first African-American to achieve that honor. The grandson of a slave, he was born in Washington, D.C., on June 27, 1922 and studies piano beginning at age 5. By the age of 14 attended high school and Howard University concurrently. At this age he was also admitted into the Oberlin Conservatory where he graduated at the age of 18. S a young concert pianist he performed many of the most difficult pieces in the repertoire with major orchestras as the first African-American instrumentalist to perform with them. He eventually received his Doctorate in Musical Arts from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY – again the first black person to do so. He went on to have an illustrious teaching and compositional career, receiving many awards, recognitions and honorary degrees. And finally, a composer who lived to old age – George Walker died in April 2018 at the age of 96 in Montclair, NJ. His long life exposed him to many types of music and his style of composition incorporates everything from influences of everything from Chopin, Brahms and composers of the 19th century to twelve-tone music to gospel.