Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ulysses Simpson Kay, Jr., Composer of Opera 'Frederick Douglass' Born Jan. 7, 1917

[Ulysses Kay: Works for Chamber Orchestra; Metropolitan Philharmonic Orchestra; Kevin Scott, Conductor; Troy 961 (2007)]

The African American composer Ulysses Simpson Kay, Jr. was born on January 7, 1917 in Tucson, Arizona. He died in Englewood, New Jersey on May 20, 1995. Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin has generously made his research entry on Ulysses S. Kay(1917-1995) available to The research includes a complete Works List for the composer, which can be found on the Ulysses S. Kay, Jr. page.
The first major release devoted exclusively to the works of Ulysses S. Kay, Jr. is Ulysses Kay: Works for Chamber Orchestra; Metropolitan Philharmonic Orchestra; Kevin Scott, Conductor; Troy 961 (2007). This week an informative and detailed article on Ulysses S. Kay, Jr. was published in The Pasadena / San Gabriel Valley News Journal. Here is an excerpt:
The Pasadena / San Gabriel Valley News Journal
Monday, 03 January 2011
Ulysses Simpson Kay, born January 7, 1917 in Tucson, Arizona, the son of Elizabeth Davis Kay and Ulysses S. Kay, he had one sister. He also was the nephew of the New Orleans jazz legend and cornet player, Joe 'King' Oliver (renowned trumpet player and mentor to Louis Armstrong), who influenced him in his formative years. Kay’s father was a barber who loved to sing. His mother, played the piano. His father used to sing ballads, hymns, work songs, and songs he created to keep his son entertained. His sister played Chopin on the piano in their home. His uncle, Joe, determined that young Kay should study the piano which he did with William A. Ferguson. He learned to play the violin and the saxophone while he was a student at Dunbar Junior High School.

“At Tucson Senior High School, he played in the marching band, sang in the glee club, and played saxophone in jazz orchestras. In 1938, he received his bachelor of music degree with training in public school music from the University of Arizona. There Kay encountered the music of pianist Bela Bartok as part of his piano study with Julia Rebeil and he was schooled in music theory under John L. Lowell at the university. He later said that those experiences gave him a completely new perspective on the field of music composition.

“He received a scholarship to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. While attending Eastman, Kay wrote his first composition: A Set of Ten Piano Pieces for Children (1939) and Sinfonetta for Orchestra (1939).”
The International Dictionary of Black Composers gives this overview of Kay's output as a composer: “Ulysses Kay composed approximately 140 musical compositions for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensembles, piano, voice, organ, and band, and he wrote five operas as well as scores for film and television. Kay’s works appear in numerous published editions and on approximately 21 recordings. Avoiding obvious musical references to his ethnicity, Kay preferred to immerse himself in compositional procedures that were a natural outgrowth of his educational and international experiences.”

According to Robert D. Herrema, “Kay believes that a composer is the product of his extraction and environment as well as his political and ethnic interests, but should not be limited by them.” In spite of these reservations, however, Kay incorporated the use of black spirituals in the opera Jubilee (1974–76) and in his last opera, Frederick Douglass (1979–85), treated the life of the legendary abolitionist.” Ulysses Simpson Kay died in Englewood, New Jersey on May 20, 1995

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