New book spotlights Philadelphia’s black classical musicians

Posted on: April 28, 2010

In Tuesday’s (4/27) Philadelphia Inquirer, Peter Dobrin writes about an aspect of Philadelphia’s classical music history. “In Philadelphia, music lovers have almost total recall of the city’s proud history. … The city has another musical history, though, a parallel tale of triumphs that has remained largely obscured, at least to much of the white classical music establishment. … This was the city that embraced Sylvia Olden Lee, an important vocal coach to singers like Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman. And it was the place that nourished other great African American artists, some of whom then had to go to Europe to find unfettered acceptance. All these lives, and more than three dozen others, are the subject of Black Classical Musicians in Philadelphia: Oral Histories Covering Four Generations. Elaine Mack, its author, spent 1995 and 1996 interviewing her subjects—retired sopranos, principal players with major American orchestras, composers, conductors, and accompanists. … Though it does not say so explicitly, the book underlines the extent to which the white and black classical music worlds operated separately, or maintained an uneasy coexistence. … If the book documents friction and opportunities denied, it also names heroes.”

Photo of Sylvia Olden Lee by Al Fuchs

Posted April 28, 2010