Saturday, December 1, 2007

Henry “Harry” T. Burleigh, African American Composer & Baritone Soloist Born Dec. 2, 1866

[Deep River: Songs and Spirituals; Oral Moses, bass-baritone; Ann Sears, piano; Troy 332 (1999)]

Henry "Harry" Thacker Burleigh was an African American composer, arranger and baritone soloist who was born in Erie, Pennsylvania on December 2, 1866. Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma is a Professor of Music at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin and has been writing about Black composers for four decades. He has generously made his research entry on Henry T. Burleigh available to Prof. De Lerma writes:

“Major assistance on this entry was provided by Arthur LaBrew.”

Prof. De Lerma's explains that Hamilton E. Waters, Burleigh's grandfather on his mother's side of the family, was a slave belonging to a resident of Princess Anne, Maryland until he went blind. Burleigh's maternal great-grandmother was an immigrant from Scotland whose husband was Native American. His grandparents on his father's side of the family were of mixed heritage as well and made their home in Newport, New York.

A photograph of Hamilton E. Waters with his young grandsons Reginald and Henry "Harry" T. Burleigh can be found at the Website of the Harry T. Burleigh Society:

Prof. De Lerma finds that Burleigh's teachers at the National Conservatory did not include the school's Director, Antonin Dvorak, but the two did spend considerable time together outside of classes. We learn from the research entry that Henry Burleigh gained recognition from performances at a church in Detroit and at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.

Prof. De Lerma tells of Burleigh's selection from a pool of 50 applicants for the position of baritone soloist at an Episcopal church in New York in 1894. Six years later, he tells us, Burleigh was also appointed as baritone soloist at a synagogue, Temple Emanu-El. Burleigh formally enrolled as a student at the National Conservatory of Music in 1894, graduating in 1896.

Prof. De Lerma goes on to say that Burleigh took part in a variety of musical performances from 1898-1906 as a singer and as a conductor of opera. He was baritone soloist in the 1904 presentation of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's musical Hiawatha's Wedding Feast. Burleigh also sang during performances on the composer's second American visit, in 1906. He was a voice teacher at Will Marion Cook's School of Music in New York, we learn from Prof. De Lerma, and was vocal coach for a number of prominent singers, such as Enrico Caruso, Roland Hayes, Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson. Prof. De Lerma tells us of Burleigh's employment with G. Ricordi:

“In 1911, he was engaged as editor for the New York branch of G. Ricordi, which firm then began issuing his works, initially with
Deep River in 1917.“

Prof. De Lerma credits Burleigh with introducing the concept of the spiritualas art song, says he was programming his own works in conjunction with those of others by 1912. and summarizes additional recitals, including programs sponsored by the Music School Settlement for Colored People on February 23, 1913 and June 19, 1919. One of his European trips featured a command performance for King Edward VII of the United Kingdom. Major awards included the Spingarn Medal of the NAACP in 1917, the Harmon Award, and honorary degrees from Atlanta University and Howard University.

In his lengthy career, Burleigh wrote 265 vocal works and made 187 choral arrangements. In 1916 he published Jubilee Songs of the United States of America, a book of arrangements of spirituals for solo vocal performance. Henry "Harry" Thacker Burleigh entered a nursing home in 1946, and died in Stamford, Connecticut on December 12, 1949. Full Article

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