Friday, November 2, 2007

H. Leslie Adams (b. 1932), African American Composer

Audio Samples:
Albany Records Troy 639 (2004); Twelve Etudes; Dr. Maria Corley, piano I. G Minor
Albany Records Troy 428 (2000); Love Rejoices: Songs of H. Leslie Adams; Dr. Darryl Taylor, countertenor; Robin Guy, piano

a For you there is no song
b Amazing Grace
c Sence You Went Away
d Creole Girl
e Homesick Blues

Six Audio Samples Illustrate Compositions of the Composer

Dr. H. (Harrison) Leslie Adams is an African American composer, pianist and professor who was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1932. His website is:

Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma is Professor of Music at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, and former Director of the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago. He has specialized in African heritage in classical music for four decades, and has kindly made his research file on the composer available to this website.

We learn from Prof. De Lerma that H. Leslie Adams was a student of both piano and voice before finishing high school:

A native of Cleveland, Harrison Leslie Adams began private piano study with Dorothy Smith and Mina Eichenbaum and voice with John Howard Tucker.”

Adams went directly from high school to Oberlin Conservatory, Prof. De Lerma writes, eventually earning Bachelor's and Masters degrees in Music and a Ph.D. in Music Education:

“Following graduation from Glenville High School he enrolled at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music (B.M, 1955), studying composition with Herbert Elwell and Joseph Wood, voice with Robert Fountain, and piano with Emil Dannenberg. He studied composition privately with Robert Starer (1950) and Vittorio Giannini (1960) before attending California State University-Long Beach (M.M., composition and choral music, 1967) where his composition teachers were Leon Dallin and Robert Tyndall. He entered Ohio State University in 1968 and secured his Ph.D. in music education in 1973, a student of Marshall Barnes. Subsequent study of orchestration was guided by Edward Mattilla, Eugene O’Brien, and Marcel Dick (1978-1983).”

Prof. De Lerma explains that Dr. Adams was a choral director at Stillman College in Alabama, and went on to hold a variety of positions as a pianist, music director and composer:

“n Alabama he was choral director at Stillman College. He was pianist for various dance companies from 1957 to 1962, and worked with the Karamu House in Cleveland, as Associate Musical Director (1964-1965), but returned as Composer-in-residence for 1979-1980, having already taught in the school system of New Jersey (Soehl Junior High School, in Linden, 1962-1963) and at the New Mexico School for Performing Arts in Raton (1966-1967). Prior to his study in California, he served one year on the faculty of Florida A&M University (1968). From 1970 to 1978, he was choral director and at the University of Kansas, leaving that post essentially to dedicate his time to composition back in his hometown, although he was guest composer at Cuyahoga Community College in 1980 and composer-in-residence for 1981-1982 at the Cleveland Music School Settlement. In 1980 he founded Accord Associates and served as president to 1986, when, until 1992 he was Executive vice-president and composer-in-residence of Accord Associates, and president and artist-in-residence from 1997 of Creative Arts.”

H. Leslie Adams has received a number of prizes, grants and fellowships, we learn from Prof. De Lerma, has been a scholar in residence, and has been selected for the Meet the Composer program of the Cleveland Public Schools three times:

“In 1963 he was winner of a composition competition held by the National Association of Negro Women, and had the 1969-1970 Fellowship of the National Education Defense Act. He received the national award for original composition from Choral Arts (1974). The National Endowment for the Arts in 1979 provided him with a grant. He has been scholar-in-residence at The Rockefeller Conference Center in Bellagio that same year, and is a Fellow of the Cleveland Foundation (1980) and the Jennings Foundation (1981). Under a Meet the Composer program he was featured in the Cleveland public schools in 1981, 1984, and 1991.”

Dr. Adams has had numerous commissions, and has performed with European and North American orchestras including the Prague Radio Symphony, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic. One recent recording of his music is
Twelve Etudes, from Albany Records Troy 639 (2004), recorded by the Jamaica-born pianist Maria Corley.

One recent recording of his music is Twelve Etudes, from Albany Records Troy 639 (2004), recorded by the Jamaica-born pianist Dr. Maria Corley. She earned Master's and Doctoral degrees in piano performance at the Juilliard School. She comments on the composer and the composition in the liner notes:

“He was, and is, extremely gracious and generous, and it was a delight to be coached by this marvelous musician and gentle spirit in how to best bring his works to life.

At the time of this writing, Dr. Adams has completed nineteen of a proposed twenty-four etudes. They are highly representative of his compositional language, including jazz-inflected syncopations, neo-romantic harmonies, and the strong melodic sense one would expect of such a brilliant composer of songs.”

The liner notes also include remarks by H. Leslie Adams on the character of the Twelve Etudes:

These are essentially studies of varying styles, moods, tonalities, and thematic natures - each providing different technical challenges, while expressing my personal sense of beauty.”

H. Leslie Adams is a Legacy Award Winner of the National Opera Association for 2006. He is also the recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award of California State University Long Beach, 2006. In addition, the composer's opera Blake has been excerpted by the New York City Opera Company, May 6, 2006. Dr. Adams was one of 12 composers selected for the event at Skirball Center, New York University, Washington Square Park South. A press release announced:

“Adams' opera Blake will feature singers from the roster of The New York City Opera Association who will perform the selected excerpt of the opera in the first of two days of new works being performed and featured.”

The press release quoted the response of H. Leslie Adams to the recognition for Blake:

I have always held in my heart the hope and chance of this labor of love and commitment to reach the world’s greatest stages and with this profound opportunity and honor of The New York City Opera Association inviting me to be a part of this year’s symposium, perhaps all of my years of work will now be shared with the world,” Adams said. “I have always received encouragement regarding the work and promoting the meaning of the work. I firmly believe, even in a world of difference and adversity; this work will join the many elements of unity amongst us all.”

A synopsis of Blake can be found at the composer's Website. The portion of the website devoted to Archives, Works and Bibliography can be read at the H. Leslie Adams page of

Leslie+Adams" rel="tag">Leslie Adams
Blake+opera" rel="tag">Blake opera
classical+music" rel="tag">classical music
African+American" rel="tag">African American
Black+Composer" rel="tag">Black Composer
Black+Music" rel="tag">Black Music

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