Thursday, April 10, 2008

James Ingram Fox (1909-2005), Guyanese Classical Composer Who Settled in Harlem

James Ingram Fox: ‘A treasured composer’
By Dr. Vibert C. Cambridge
Stabroek News
March 13, 2005

When James Ingram Fox passed away on February 8, 2005, at the age of 96, he was probably Guyana’s most prolific composer of classical music. He left an impressive collection of five symphonies, an opera, concerti, piano sonatas, choral works, and 60 songs. Many superlatives have been used to describe Fox. In 1987, Bridget Hart-Doman referred to him as “one of the most talented classical pianists, symphonic and operatic composers, writers and lecturers.” In 1998, Talise D Moorer described him as a “treasured composer.” His obituary summarized his life as a “true ambassador for music all over the world.”

James Ingram Fox was the first son of James Christopher and Clara Fox and was born on February 18, 1909 in Georgetown, British Guiana. His father was a dentist, and the family hoped that James would study medicine. Like his relative Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson, he responded to the muse of music.

Fox grew up in a musical environment and developed his love for music in Guyana. He left during his teens for London via New York, but never reached his intended final destination. During a concert at Carnegie Hall, he was seduced by the works of Beethoven and Wagner, and this led to his decision to stay in New York and pursue music. It was a decision that did not find favour with his father, who cut off his allowances. To make ends meet, Fox took a job as an elevator operator for the princely sum of $17.68 per week. “Can’t forget the 68 cents,” said Fox in an interview with Hart-Doman. “In those days, black students and professionals had to do menial jobs or else starve to death.”

In 1932, Fox enrolled at the New York College of Music and studied with Dr August Fraemcke and Gottfried Kritzler. After earning his BA at the New York School of Music, Fox completed an MA in Music from Columbia University in 1938.

After graduation, because of the virulence of the racism that existed in American society, Fox was unable to find a job as a full-time music teacher. He kept his job as an elevator operator and worked occasionally with Morton Gould arranging music for Broadway shows. He would maintain this relationship with Gould for many years and work with him on musical compositions for radio.

Fox completed The Academic, the first of his five symphonies, in 1939. It attracted the attention of Dean Dixon (1915-1976), the African American Director of Music at The Julliard School, who became a promoter of Fox’s music. In 1940, Albert Coates conducted the London Symphony Orchestra’s performance of The Academic at the Royal Albert Hall. Fox’s other symphonies are The Choral (on the Ode to Nativity by Milton), The Hinterland (dedicated to the people of Guyana), The Emancipation, and Southland. Full Post

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