Sunday, July 21, 2013 'Ulysses Kay was the first notable African American composer to establish himself in the white cultural mainstream'

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

All Music

Ulysses Kay was the first notable African American composer to establish himself in the white cultural mainstream with scores that almost never employed the jazz blues colors or pictorialism employed by others, such as William Grant Still. He was very much a member of the musical establishment, with a college post and a style that evolved along the lines of his contemporary, William Schuman.
Kay was the nephew of jazz cornetist and bandleader King Oliver. 

Kay obtained his bachelor's in music from the University of Arizona in 1938, then went on to obtain a master's in 1940 at the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Bernard Rogers and Howard Hanson. During the following two summers, he studied with Paul Hindemith at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood. After wartime service in the Navy (during which he played flute, saxophone, and piccolo in a Navy band and piano in a jazz band), he studied composition with Otto Luening at Columbia University (1946 - 1949). As a winner of the American Rome Prize, he was affiliated with the American Academy in Rome from 1949 to 1952.

Kay became a model for minority composers who wished to be taken seriously in a white world. He did this by blending in stylistically; his music sounded "American" in its rhythmic verve, but it almost never employed blues, jazz, or African elements. 

In the 1950s, he generated a far more varied output: the first two of his five operas; the first two of his three string quartets; a great many songs; and a number of substantial orchestral works, including the Sinfonia in E major, Concerto for Orchestra, and Serenade. 

[Ulysses Simpson Kay, Jr. (1917-1995) is profiled at, which features a comprehensive Works List and a Bibliography by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma,]

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