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In 1932 Henry Lewis was born in Los Angeles. Like many professional musicians, he started piano lessons at an early age. Lewis attended the University of Southern California and was hired, at age 16, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic as a double bass player to become the first black instrumentalist in a major symphony orchestra.
After six years as a double-bassist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, he served in the United States Armed Forces (1955–1956) and played double-bass with and conducted the Seventh Army Symphony in Germany and the Netherlands
After returning to the USA, Lewis founded the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. In 1961 Maestro Lewis made his professional debut as a conductor when he led the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in two concerts. He was appointed assistant conductor under Zubin Mehta, a post he held from 1961-1965. Maestro Lewis was named musical director of the Los Angeles Opera Company in 1965. Three years later, 1968, Maestro Lewis left to become musical director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, making him the first African-American director of a major orchestra in the United States. In 1972 Lewis made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera conducting Puccini’s La Boheme. Maestro Henry Lewis was the first African American to lead an orchestra at the Met. After retiring from the New Jersey Symphony in 1976, he toured as a guest conductor in all of the major opera houses. From 1989 to 1991, he was principal conductor of the Netherlands Radio Symphony.
From 1960 to 1979, Lewis was married to famed opera singer Marilyn Horne who often credits him with her early development as a singer. Lewis died from a heart attack in 1996 at the age of 63.
Maestro Renee’ Baker is music director of the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project, She will conduct the Los Angeles premiere of Roy Harris “Bicentennial Symphony” (orchestra & chorus) scheduled January 17, 2015, Luckman Fine Arts Complex on the campus of California State University Los Angeles as centerpiece of a concert to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of 13th Amendment to the US Constitution Ending Slavery. Please see http://www.chicagomodernorchestraproject.org/about/.
Maestro Renee’ Baker will receive the inaugural Henry Lewis Conducting Award during a special ceremony honoring composer Roy Harris on the campus of California State University Los Angeles prior to January 17, 2015
The Concert to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of 13th Amendment to the US Constitution Ending Slavery is a co-production of California State University Los Angeles Music, Theater, Dance Department and MusicUNTOLD with support from Colburn Foundation and Employee Community Fund of the Boeing Company.