Thursday, August 22, 2013

CBMR Digest: Helen Walker-Hill 'was respected and loved by a wide circle of students, scholars, composers, and performers as well as by the CBMR staff.'

Helen Walker-Hill (1936–2013)

Helen Walker-Hill, the Center’s good friend and benefactor, died suddenly on August 8, 2013, in Boulder, Colorado. Helen was a concert pianist, teacher, and scholar who specialized in the works of black women composers. She held degrees from the University of Toledo (1957), Smith College (1965), and the University of Colorado in Boulder (1981). Her marriage in 1960 to composer George Walker produced two sons, Gregory and Ian.
Helen’s research into the music of black women composers resulted in several published anthologies and editions. With her son, violinist Gregory Walker, she recorded a CD of music by black women, Kaleidoscope: Music by African-American Women (Leonarda LE 339) in 1995. In 2002 her major study From Spirituals to Symphonies: African-American Women Composers and Their Music was published by Greenwood Press, and she contributed several articles for the CBMR’s International Dictionary of Black Composers (Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1999).
During 1996–1997 Helen was a Rockefeller Resident Fellow in the Humanities at the CBMR. During her fellowship and in the following years she donated the bulk of her collection of research materials and scores to the CBMR Library and Archives. Subsequently the CBMR received a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to compile a detailed finding aid to her collection as part of a project to inventory the papers of three major women scholars: Eileen Southern, Dena J. Epstein, and Helen Walker-Hill. The finding aid can be found on the CBMR’s website.
Helen maintained a close relationship with the CBMR. In 2006 the Center produced a concert of piano, vocal, and chamber works from the Walker-Hill collection, which Helen consulted on and attended. She also consulted on the Center’s Recorded Music of the African Diaspora CD series, the first issue of which featured Mary Watkins’ Five Movements in Color, which was recommended by Helen. She frequently introduced composers to the CBMR, some of whom have subsequently established CBMR collections of their own scores and papers to continue Helen’s work. When women composers introduced themselves to the Center, the staff usually passed on the information to Helen, who often contacted them.

One of Helen’s outstanding characteristics was collegiality, and the generosity with which she shared her work and her discoveries with others. Until her health became uncertain, she continued to write and publish, and to add to her CBMR collection. She was respected and loved by a wide circle of students, scholars, composers, and performers as well as by the CBMR staff.

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