“George Walker, a composer who broke barriers during a long and distinguished career, including, in 1996, becoming the first black composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music, died on Thursday in Montclair, N.J.,” writes Neil Genzlinger in last Monday’s (8/27) New York Times. “Dr. Walker, who was also a music professor at several institutions, composed more than 90 works, and his pieces were performed by orchestras all over the United States as well as abroad. But, especially early in his career, he often felt that his race had deprived him of opportunities. Though his works sometimes carried references to African-American spiritual music and jazz, they were not his main calling card…. George Theophilus Walker was born on June 27, 1922, in Washington…. He [graduated from] the Oberlin Conservatory of Music … in 1941…. At the Curtis Institute of Music … he at first studied under the pianist Rudolf Serkin [and] with the violinist and composer Rosario Sclaero…. In 1945 … he … became the first black pianist to play with the Philadelphia Orchestra.… In 1956 he became the [Eastman School of Music’s] first black recipient of a doctoral degree.… The piece that won him the Pulitzer Prize, ‘Lilacs’ … first performed by the Boston Symphony … is a setting of verses from Walt Whitman’s lament for Abraham Lincoln.”

Posted September 4, 2018

In photo: George Walker in 2010 at his home in Montclair, New Jersey. Photo by Frank Schramm