Thursday, June 14, 2012

Composer and conductor Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson was born on June 14, 1932

[Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson: A Celebration; Cedille 087]

The African American composer and conductor Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson was born on June 14, 1932.  Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma is a specialist in African heritage in classical music, and has kindly made his research file on Perkinson available to this site.  He points out that Perkinson was named for the Afro-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: “He was born in New York City, where his mother – already familiar with the music of the Afro-British composer -- was active as pianist, organist, and director of a theater in the Bronx.”

We learn from Prof. De Lerma that Perkinson had an interest in dance and music in his youth: “Prior to his entrance in New York’s High School of Music and Art in 1945, he exhibited an interest in dance, studying with Pearl Primus and Ismay Andrews. Mentored in high school by his teacher Hugh Ross, he came to meet Igor Stravinsky. By the time of his graduation in 1949, when he won the LaGuardia Prize for music, he had begun composing.” “Perkinson's 1948 composition And Behold won the High School for Music and Art Choral Competition.”

Prof. De Lerma notes that Perkinson's initial college major was Education, but his Bachelor's and Masters degrees were in Music: “He majored in education for two years at New York University (1949-1951), then transferred to the Manhattan School of Music in 1951 (B.M., 1953; M.M., composition, 1954) where he was a composition major under Charles Mills and Vittorio Giannini, and conducting with Jonel Perlea.”

The research file of Dominique-René de Lerma reports that some of Perkinson's classmates at the Manhattan School of Music increased his involvement in jazz: “His interest in jazz was stimulated while enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music in association with classmates Julius Watkins, Herbie Mann, Donald Byrd, and Max Roach. He has been engaged as arranger and/or music director for Marvin Gaye, Lou Rawls, Barbara McNair, Donald Byrd, Max Roach (as pianist in the Roach Quartet, 1964-1965), Melvin Van Peebles, and Harry Belafonte. Arrangements he made for Hamiet Bluiett appear on the CD, Bluiett blueback, Justin Time JUST 158-2.”

In 1954, Perkinson attended a Summer course in conducting at the Berkshire Music Center, Prof. De Lerma writes: “In the summer of 1954 he studied conducting at the Berkshire Music Center. This was supplemented with additional study with Earl Kim at Princeton University from about 1959 to 1962. During his student days, he roomed with his good friends, Arthur LaBrew and Noel DaCosta. For three summers (1960, 1962, and 1963), he studied in the Netherlands with Dean Dixon and Franco Ferrara in conducting at the Netherlands Radio Union in Hilversum, spending part of the 1960 summer at the Mozarteum. He also studied with Dimitri Mitropoulos, Lovro von Matacic, Franco Ferrara, Dean Dixon and Clarence Williams.”

The website of Leonarda Records,, includes an overview of Perkinson's musical scores for stage, film and television: “His ballet scores include works for the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey, and the Eleo Pomare Dance Company. He has composed and conducted scores for numerous award-winning theatrical, television, and documentary films such as Montgomery to Memphis (Martin Luther King), Bearden on Bearden (Romare Bearden), A Woman Called Moses (Cicely Tyson), and A Warm December (Sidney Poitier) and has arranged for jazz and popular artists including Harry Belefonte and Marvin Gaye. He conducted orchestras all over the world and served as music director or composer-in-residence for the Negro Ensemble Company, Alvin Ailey Dance Company, Dance Theatre of Harlem and various theatre groups.” Perkinson also wrote the themes for the television shows Room 222 and Get Christie Love!

From 1998 until his death in Chicago on March 9, 2004, Perkinson was affiliated with the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago.

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