French horn player writes memoir about breaking race barrier

Posted on: November 11, 2014

In a Sunday (11/9) story at NPR’s All Things Considered program, Karen Grigsby Bates reports, “Robert Lee Watt fell in love with the French horn at an early age. He met a lot of resistance from people who thought his background and his race made a career with the instrument unlikely—but he went on to become the first African-American French hornist hired by a major symphony in the United States. He became the assistant first French horn for the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1970, and stayed with the orchestra for 37 years. His memoir, The Black Horn, tells how he got there. Watt grew up in New Jersey with a mother who played piano by ear and a father who played the trumpet. His dad was keen to have Watt follow in his footsteps and play popular music and jazz on the trumpet. But then Watt discovered a French horn in the basement of the local community center…. Watt was drawn to the instrument…. Today, symphony auditions are ‘blind.’ … That wasn’t the case back when Watt started his career, and he wasn’t sure that, given his race, he’d even have a chance in auditions.… One teacher encouraged him to audition anyway.”

Posted November 11, 2014