Saturday, June 27, 2020 Composer Profile: George Walker, A Historic Pulitzer-Prize Winner


June 27, 2020

By David Salazar

George Walker was one of the great Black composers of all time.

Born on June 27, 1922, in Washington D.C., his mother Rosa King supervised his first piano lessons when he was but five years of age. By the time he was 14-years-old and a student of Howard University, Walker hosted his first recital. He was then admitted into the Oberlin Conservatory and graduated in 1939 at 18 with the highest honors
Walker went to the Curtis Institute where he studied with some of the most renowned artists of all time, including Rudolf Serkin, William Primrose, Gregor Piatigorsky, and Rosario Scalero. He was one of the first Black graduates from the Institute.

Walker made his recital debut in New York at the Town Hall, becoming the first Black instrumentalist to do so. He would follow that with a performance of a Rachmaninoff piano concerto alongside Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra; he was the first Black instrumentalist to appear alongside the famed ensemble.

In 1950, he became the first Black instrumentalist to be signed by a major management company when he joined National Concert Artists.

He would enjoy a prominent performing, composer, and teacher career in the ensuing decades appearing all around the world.
In 1996, Walker became the first Black composer to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his “Lilacs” for voice and orchestra.

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