(By Eugene Hutchinson)
February 26, 2016
By Ed Stannard
NEW HAVEN >> Helen Eugenia Hagan was a Yale School of Music graduate and African-American concert pianist who entertained black American troops in France after World War I, and she deserves better than to lie in an unmarked grave in Evergreen Cemetery.
That’s the opinion of Elizabeth Foxwell, who has edited a book about women of the WWI era, “In Their Own Words,” and who is trying to raise money for a gravestone for Hagan.
“She was the only black performing artist sent to World War I France,” said Foxwell, who also is editor of the Catholic Historical Review at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Hagan traveled with a group led by Henry H. Proctor, an African-American Congregational preacher who ministered to black American troops after the war, according to BlackPast.org. The trip was requested by Gen. John J. Pershing, Foxwell said.
Hagan apparently was something of a prodigy. Foxwell believes she became the organist at the Dixwell Avenue Congregational Church as early as 1901 or 1903. Since she was born in 1891, that would mean she played for the congregation at “about 11” years old.
She then attended Yale, graduating in 1912. (The Music School has always accepted women, although Yale College didn’t until 1969.) Her only surviving composition, the Piano Concerto in C Minor, was “essentially, if you will, her senior thesis” and probably was not her only work, Foxwell said. “She’s cited in various books as having other pieces.” The concerto won her a fellowship.