Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

The life and work of a British-born musical genius of African heritage who died a century ago was the subject of a presentation at the WEB Du Bois Centre in Accra on Thursday.

Entitled ‘Remembering Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’, the presentation, which was organized by UK-based voluntary organization BTWSC and led by music industry and history consultant Kwaku, highlighted some of the achievements in Coleridge-Taylor’s short life.

Coleridge-Taylor was born in London in 1875 to a British mother and a Sierra Leonean father. He died in 1912, aged 37. Within his short life, he made a great impression within music, both in Britain and internationally, especially in the US, where he successfully toured three times. Within a year of completing his studies at London’s Royal College Of Music, he created two popular compositions in 1898 – ‘A Ballade In A Minor’, and ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast’. The latter, a choral and orchestral piece, was the composition that brought him to global prominence.

In addition to composing and touring, Coleridge-Taylor spent his time adjudicating competitions, conducting, and teaching – he held a number of professorships in composition. In spite of his fame, he prided himself in being African, and incorporated African themes within the classical music genre. He was also a pan-Africanist – he was he a member of the African Association, which organized the 1900 Pan-African Conference in London, where he was in charge of the music programme.

The presentation, which is being delivered in London schools and libraries, was adapted to take cognizance of the venue. It ended with an insight into the enduring relationship between the Coleridge-Taylor family and Du Bois.

The links with Du Bois and other African-American leaders such as the educationalist Booker T Washingtion, were highlighted in the opening speech by Mr. BS Ato Keelson, director of the WEB Du Bois Centre. Other speakers included His Excellency Mr KB Asante, who spoke of his colonial education at Achimota College, where his British music mistress did not only teach about Coleridge-Taylor’s compositions such as ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast’, but also tried to widen their horizons by stressing the fact that the composer was African.

Dr DEK Baku, head of history at the University Of Ghana, spoke about his discovery of Coleridge-Taylor in a book during the research stages for his PhD, which also highlighted other leading pan-African thinkers such as Mensah Sarbah and Kobina Sekyi, both Gold Coasters.

The event was produced by BTWSC in association with WEB Du Bois Memorial Centre For Pan African Culture, BritishBlackMusic.com/Black Music Congress, and the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor 100PM Collective. There was sponsorship by La Community Bank.

 

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