Obituary: Everett Lee, Black conductor who made history on Broadway and led orchestras in Europe and the U.S., 105

Posted on: January 24, 2022

“Everett Lee, a conductor who broke down racial barriers but then fled the prejudice that Black classical musicians faced in the United States to make a significant career in Europe, died on Jan. 12 at a hospital near his home in Malmo, Sweden. He was 105,” writes David Allen in Thursday’s (1/20) New York Times. “Already a concertmaster leading white theater orchestras by 1943, Mr. Lee made a significant breakthrough on Broadway when he was appointed music director of Leonard Bernstein’s ‘On the Town’ in September 1945…. In 1953, Mr. Lee conducted the Louisville Orchestra in Kentucky…. United Press reported that Mr. Lee’s concert was ‘one of the first’ at which a Black man led a white orchestra in the South…. Racism constrained Mr. Lee’s U.S. career…. Mr. Lee [followed] other Black musicians into exile abroad … in 1957 and prospered in Germany, Colombia and especially Sweden, where he succeeded Herbert Blomstedt as music director of the Norrkoping Symphony Orchestra, from 1962 to 1972.… Mr. Lee [created] the Cosmopolitan Little Symphony in 1947, an integrated ensemble that rehearsed at Harlem’s Grace Congregational church…. Mr. Lee [was] chief conductor of the Bogotá Philharmonic from 1985 to 1987…. In … 1997 … he recalled being denied violin auditions at two major U.S. orchestras: ‘I then made up my mind that if I can’t join you, then I will lead you.’ ”