BURLEIGH Harry T.
BURLEIGH Harry T. (1866-1949) is arguably the first prominent Black composer in America. Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, on 2 December 1866, Burleigh received his first music training from his mother. Although he had no formal training, his talent as a singer led to employment as a soloist in several Erie churches and synagogues. In 1892, at the age of twenty-six, Burleigh received a scholarship (with some intervention in his behalf from Mrs. Frances MacDowell, mother of famed American composer Edward MacDowell) to the National Conservatory of Music in New York where he studied with Christian Fritsch, Rubin Goldmark, John White, and Max Spicker. The years Burleigh spent at the Conservatory greatly influenced his career, mostly due to his association and friendship with Antonín Dvorák, the Conservatory's director. After spending countless hours recalling and performing the African-American spirituals and plantation songs he had learned from his maternal grandfather for Dvorák, Burleigh was encouraged by the elder composer to preserve these melodies in his own compositions. In turn, Dvorák's use of the spirituals "Goin' Home" and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" in his Symphony no. 9 in E minor ("From the New World") was probably influenced by his sessions with Burleigh. In addition, Burleigh served as copyist for Dvorák, a task that prepared him for his future responsibilities as a music editor. In 1900, Burleigh was the first African-American chosen as soloist at Temple Emanu-El, a New York synagogue, and by 1911 he was working as an editor for music publisher G. Ricordi. His success was enhanced through the publication of several of his compositions, including "Ethiopia Saluting the Colors", a collection entitled "Jubilee Songs of the USA", and his arrangement of "Deep River", for which he is best remembered. The widespread success of his setting of "Deep River" inspired the publication of nearly a dozen more spirituals the same year, his spiritual arrangements became increasingly popular with concert soloists, and a tradition of concluding concerts with a set of spirituals was established. Burleigh's achievement in solo vocal writing is best represented by his original song cycles, "Saracen Songs" , "Passionale", and "Five Songs of Laurence Hope", considered by many to be his finest work. His instrumental output includes the unpublished "Six Plantation Melodies" for violin and piano, "From the Southland" for piano, and "Southland Sketches" for violin and piano.
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