Monday, January 28, 2008

George T. Walker, Jr. (b. 1922): First African American Pulitzer Prize Winner in Music

George T. Walker, Jr. maintains an extensive Website of his own, The site is organized in several sections and articles come from more than a dozen sources. Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma, Professor of Music at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, has been writing about African heritage in classical music for four decades. He has generously made his research entry on George Walker available to

“His father
was a physician who was born in Kingston, Jamaica and immigrated to the U.S. He graduated from Temple University Medical School in Philadelphia. Walker's mother was Rosa King, a native of Washington, D.C.”

George Theophilus Walker, Jr. was born in Washington, D.C. June 27, 1922. The boy was 5 when he began to study piano with his mother, according to the research entry. When Walker was 14 years old, he gave his first public performance on the piano at Howard University, his Website explains, and also graduated from Dunbar High School. Prof. De Lerma continues: “He studied music in the Junior Department of Music at Howard University.” “A scholarship enabled Walker to enroll in Oberlin college at age 15, in 1937. David Moyer was his piano professor, and Arthur Poister taught him organ. Walker was 18 when he received his B.M. Degree, leading his Conservatory class in honors, in 1941.” “At the Curtis Institute of Music, he studied piano with Rudolf Serkin and Mieczyslaw Horszowski, and chamber music with William Primrose and Gregor Piatigorsky.”

We learn from Walker' Website that he also studied composition at Curtis with Rosario Scalero. It adds: “He graduated from the Curtis Institute with Artist Diplomas in piano and composition in 1945, becoming the first black graduate of this renowned music school.” In the year of his graduation from Curtis, Walker won the Youth Auditions in Philadelphia, as Prof. De Lerma details:“ It was in 1945 that he won the Youth Auditions in Philadelphia. He made his recital debut at Town Hall in 1945 and orchestral debut as pianist in the third concerto of Rachmaninoff with the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Ormandy.” The young pianist then toured actively in the U.S. and Europe. Prof. De Lerma continues: “When in France he studied with Clifford Curzon and Robert Casadeus, and was one of the few private students of Nadia Boulanger at the American Academy, which he first attended in the Summer of 1947 as a student of piano.”

“He received the Doctor of Musical Arts Degree and the Artist Diploma in 1956 from the Eastman School of Music, which institution presented him with with the Alumnus Citation in 1961.” George Walker recounts the circumstances of his studies in Paris in 1957 and 1958: “I studied composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris on a Fulbright Fellowship in 1957. I was again at the American Academy in Fontainebleau on a scholarship in 1958.”

The faculty positions held by George Walker are summarized by Prof. De Lerma: “His earlier teaching career included Dillard University, the Dalcroze School of Music, the New School for Social Research, Smith College, and the University of Colorado-Boulder. Subsequently he taught at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, the University of Delaware, and in 1969 joined the faculty of Rutgers University-Newark, where he was departmental chair and designated Distinguished Professor in 1976. Walker received a second Guggenheim Fellowship in the 1970s. He retired in 1992.

The research entry lists numerous fellowships, grants and awards. George Theophilus Walker, Jr. won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1996. Prof. De Lerma notes the award in a survey article in Africana Encyclopedia: “In 1996, late in his long career, he became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize in music, for Lilacs, a piece for voice and orchestra.” Although George Walker was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for music during his lifetime, Prof. De Lerma notes that it was posthumously awarded to Scott Joplin in 1976. In February 1987 Bruce Duffie had an extended interview with George T. Walker, Jr. which can be read at Duffie's Website,

With the exception of two anthologies, Walker says, all of his music is currently published by MMB Music in St. Louis, Missouri. About 120 titles are listed at:

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