Friday, December 2, 2011

Henry T. Burleigh, Baritone & Composer Born Dec. 2, 1866, Was Grandson Of A Slave, Tested Civil Rights Law

[ABOVE: Nobody Knows - Songs Of Harry T. Burleigh; Karen Parks, soprano; Wayne Sanders, piano; Thirty Tigers 765324 (2008) BELOW: 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. Soprano Karen Parks and pianist Wayne Sanders have collected several songs of H.T. Burleigh on the CD pictured above, Nobody Knows - Songs Of Harry T. Burleigh, which is devoted entirely to works of this composer.

Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma,, has generously made his research entry on Henry T. Burleigh available to The website features a comprehensive Works List compiled by Prof. De Lerma. Prof. De Lerma 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.

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 says Burleigh was chosen 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 adds, 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 tells of a personal Civil Rights campaign undertaken by Burleigh in 1895 with two other individuals: “New York governor Morton signed a civil rights bill in 1895, which Burleigh tested in 25 area restaurants, service being denied only by the Continent, Brunswick, Shanley’s, and O’Neil's.” “Joining him in this were Charles W. Anderson (private secretary of the state treasurer) and Richard E. Stovall (president of the Kenmore Club).”

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 spiritual as art song, says he was programming his own works in conjunction with those of others by 1912. Major awards included the Spingarn Medal of the NAACP in 1917 and the Harmon Award.

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.

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