Monday, December 10, 2007

Undine Smith Moore (1904-1989), African American Composer

Undine Smith Moore, granddaughter of slaves, was born August 25, 1904 in Jarrat, Virginia. She began piano lessons at age seven. Working Out Her Destiny, an online resource of The Library of Virginia, says of the composer:

In 1924 she received the first scholarship from the Juilliard Graduate School to study music at Fisk University. She graduated cum laude in 1926 and became supervisor of music in the Goldsboro, North Carolina, public schools. Smith began teaching at Virginia State College (later Virginia State University) in 1927, where she remained on the faculty until her retirement in 1972. Between 1929 and 1931 Smith commuted to New York to study for her Master of Arts degree at Columbia University’s Teachers College.”

Undine Smith Moore's composition Before I'd be a Slave (1953)(3:42) has been recorded by pianist Maria Thompson Corley on Soulscapes: Piano Music By African American Women; Troy 857 (2006). The liner notes tell us:

She taught at Virginia state College, where she began composing music for the laboratory school chorus. In 1969, she co-founded its Black Music Center. During her career, she toured extensively in West Africa and the United States as a guest conductor and clinician. Although she wrote in a number of genres, she is best known for her choral works. “Before I'd be a Slave” was commissioned by the Modern Dance Group at Virginia State College.”

Before I'd be a Slave has also been recorded by Helen Walker-Hill, piano; and Gregory Walker, violin; on Kaleidoscope: Music by African-American Women; Leonarda LE 339 (1995). Her Afro-American Suite for Flute, Violoncello and Piano has been published by, whose website tells us:

“Dr. Moore’s
Scenes from the Life of a Martyr, a 16-part oratorio on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, for chorus, orchestra, solo voices and narrator was premiered at Carnegie Hall and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.”

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