Monday, March 17, 2014

John Malveaux: American Music Review: 'Everett Lee and the Racial Politics of Orchestral Conducting' by Carol J. Oja, Harvard University

Everett Lee with Reverend J. C. Olden, Civil Rights leader and father of Lee’s first wife, Sylvia Olden Lee

Courtesy of The Courier-Journal

 Everett Lee conducting 
the Louisville Orchestra in 1953
as published in Jet, 1 October 1953

AfriClassical has posted information on Everett A. Lee in 2011 and 2013, thanks to information provided by his son Everett Lee III and Byron Hanson, Archivist at Interlochen Center for the Arts, in Michigan, as well as Bob Shingleton of the blog On An Overgrown Path.

John Malveaux of forwards this link:

Please see research/article by Carol J. Oja, Harvard University

H. Wiley Hitchcock Institute for Studies in American Music

Carol J. Oja writes in the Notes:

This article is drawn from my forthcoming book, Bernstein Meets Broadway: Collaborative Art in a Time of War (Oxford University Press, to be published in 2014). 

American Music Review
Volume XLIII, Number 1, Fall 2013
Everett Lee and the Racial Politics of Orchestral Conducting

While researching a book about the Broadway musical On the Town, I quickly realized that the show’s initial production in 1944 was remarkable for its progressive deployment of a mixed-race cast.1 On the Town marked the Broadway debut of Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jerome Robbins. Its star was the Japanese American dancer Sono Osato, and its cast included six African Americans out of a total of fifty-four. Today, those numbers would appear as tokenism. Within the context of World War II, however, with a contentiously segregated military, detainment of Japanese Americans as “alien enemies,” and racial stereotypes of the minstrel show fully in practice, On the Town aimed to challenge the status quo. Black and white males in military uniforms stood side-by-side on stage, modeling a desegregated military, and black men held hands with white women in scenes of inter-racial dancing. The show’s intentional desegregation made a statement.
An equally important racial landmark occurred nine months into the run of On the Town, when during the week of 9 September 1945 Everett Lee, an African American conductor, ascended to the podium of the show’s otherwise all-white pit orchestra. Previously, Lee had been the orchestra’s concertmaster. In an era of Jim Crow segregation in performance, Lee’s appointment was downright remarkable, and it has been followed by an equally exceptional career. His first wife Sylvia Olden Lee (ca. 1918-2004) emerged professionally at the same time as her husband, and their development as musicians was deeply intertwined. She ultimately became a celebrated accompanist and vocal coach, working with African American divas such as Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle.

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