Frances Walker-Slocum’s Brilliance and Advocacy: Bringing Black Classical Composers to the Forefront of Oberlin Conservatory

Document 1: Bicentennial Program Review   |     Document 2: Oakwood College Concert Program
      Document 3: African-American Music Festival Concert Program     |     Document 4: Oberlin Faculty Recital Concert Program
 Document 5: Tenure Recommendation      |     Document 6: Letter from Oberlin President Starr
Document 7: Interview      |      Bibliography      |     Notable Figures

Notable Composers and Professors

Margaret Bonds (1913-1972) was born in Chicago, Illinois. She studied piano and composition at Northwestern University and with professors at Juilliard. She was the first Black soloist to play with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and organized the Black Chamber Society. She is known for her collaboration with Langston Hughes. Bonds was the only woman composer Walker-Slocum performed (Margaret Bonds, All Music, Source, accessed 18 July 2016).

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was born in London, England. Coleridge-Taylor studied violin and composition at Royal College of Music. He published his first composition at 16. He was influenced by mostly black poetry and song traditions. He taught at the Guildhall School of Music and Trinity College.

Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) was born in Drummondville, Ontario, in 1882. In 1908, he became the first Black graduate of Oberlin’s five-year Conservatory. He had a prestigious teaching career, including positions at Harvard, Columbia and Oberlin. He composed and arranged folk and spiritual melodies for large choirs, particularly the Hampton Choir, who toured with his pieces in Europe. He also composed pieces for piano and solo voice.

Robert Goldsand (1911-1991) was born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary. He performed extensively throughout his career, focusing on the piano repertoire of the nineteenth century. He taught Walker-Slocum at Manhattan School of Music.

Mieczyslaw Horszowski (1892-1993) was born in Lvov, Poland (now Ukraine). He performed for nine decades, beginning as a child prodigy. Rudolf Serkin invited him to teach at Curtis Institute of Music, where he taught Walker-Slocum.

Scott Joplin (1867-1917) was born in Texarkana, Texas. He is most famous for composing “Maple Leaf Rag” and “The Entertainer.” Tom Turpin inspired his interest in ragtime, although Turpin himself did not compose or perform as extensively as Joplin. He earned his reputation as a traveling musician, as many formal educational opportunities were restricted to Black musicians at the time.

Wendell Logan (1940-2010)  was born in Thomson, Georgia. He studied at Florida A&M University, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and University of Iowa. Most relevant to this collection, Logan and Walker-Slocum were both Black Conservatory professors together, and developed a close friendship. Logan played soprano saxophone and trumpet, and composed both jazz and classical music. He founded Oberlin Conservatory’s Jazz Department.

Rudolf Serkin (1903-1991) was born in Bohemia (now Czech Republic). He taught Walker-Slocum at Curtis Institute of Music. Before immigrating to America in 1933, Serkin toured throughout Europe.

Hale Smith (1925-2009) was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1925. He received his Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, and Honorary Degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1950, 1952, and 1988 respectively. The New York Times remembered him as a composer who could uniquely blend jazz and classical music.

William Grant Still (1895-1978) was born in Woodville, Mississippi. He studied orchestral and opera composition at Wilberforce University. He was influenced by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in his early career, a composer who Walker-Slocum also frequently performed. He worked as a musical director and arranger for a radio station orchestra to sustain his composition career. He was the first Black composer to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra. After that, other major orchestras like the New York Philharmonic commissioned him to write pieces for them.

Howard Swanson (1907-1978) was born in Atlanta, Georgia. He studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music. His music was classical and maintained elements of Black American folk music idioms.

George Walker (1922-) was born in Washington, D. C. Like his sister, Walker-Slocum, he plays piano and is known for his composition. He began his studies at Oberlin College Conservatory, then to Eastman School of Music and Curtis Institute of Music. He received several prestigious awards and fellowships such as Fulbright, Whitney, Guggenheim, Rockefeller and MacDowell. He was the first Black composer to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Classical Music in 1996. Walker and Walker-Slocum greatly respected each other’s work and talent.

John Wesley Work, Jr. (1871-1925) was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1873.  He studied at Fisk University, and worked as the lead scholar and writer on Black American music there. He was a composer and conductor and participated in different choirs throughout his lifetime. He argued that black folk music was the only authentic American folk music. His son, John Wesley Work III was also a composer and scholar of Black folklore (John Wesley Work, Jr., LibriVox, Source, accessed 18 July 2016).

Unless noted, all information is from Oxford Music Online.