In Monday’s (4/29) New York Times, Bruce Weber writes, “Donald Shirley, a pianist and composer who gathered classical music with jazz and other forms of popular music under a singular umbrella after being discouraged from pursuing a classical music career because he was black, died on April 6 at his home in Manhattan. He was 86. … A son of Jamaican parents, Mr. Shirley was a musical prodigy who played much of the standard concert repertory by age 10 and made his professional debut with the Boston Pops at 18, performing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor. But when he was in his 20s, he told his family and friends, the impresario Sol Hurok advised him to pursue a career in popular music and jazz, warning him that American audiences were not willing to accept a ‘colored’ pianist on the concert stage. Thus derailed, Mr. Shirley took to playing at nightclubs and invented what amounted to his own musical genre. … He eventually did make it back to the concert stage, though rarely to perform the standard classical repertory. He played Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ at La Scala in Milan; he played at Carnegie Hall with Ellington; he played Gershwin’s Concerto in F, accompanying the Alvin Ailey dancers, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In the late 1960s, he made unreleased recordings of Rachmaninoff with the New York Philharmonic and Khachaturian with the Minneapolis Symphony.”

Posted April 29, 2013