English composer & conductor | May 1895 – December 1978
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was an English composer, conductor and political activist who fought against race prejudice with his incredible compositions. Raised in a family of keen musicians, Taylor’s father taught him to play the violin at a young age. The boy’s talent and affinity towards music was obvious, so he was encouraged to join the Royal College of Music when he was just 15 years old and it was here that he perfected his technique. Soon enough, Taylor began writing compositions under the guidance of professor Charles Stanford and after completing his degree, his career as a composer went from strength to strength.
The bright young composer made his musical debut with Ballade in A Minor, for which he was called “a genius” by music publisher August Jaeger. Conscious of his African descent, Taylor’s classical compositions were heavily influenced by traditional African music and this made him one of the most progressive writers of his time. He also became well-known for his use of poetry, particularly in his cantata trilogy, The Song of Hiawatha, which included the epic Hiawatha Overture and was based on a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Despite the black community’s ongoing battle against racism, the first part of this work, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, was so popular that it led him to embark on three tours of the United States. In fact, his work across music and politics was so well received that in 1904, he was even invited by President Theodore Roosevelt to visit the White House—a bold statement and a positive step forward for African Americans.