Rediscovering Vicente Lusitano, a Black composer and teacher of the 16th century

Posted on: June 17, 2022

“You might assume that a Black Renaissance composer would be a figure of significant interest, much-performed and studied,” writes Holly Williams in Wednesday’s (6/15) BBC (U.K.) “In fact, the story of the first known published Black composer—Vicente Lusitano—is only now being heard, alongside a revival of interest in his long-neglected choral music. Lusitano was born around 1520, in Portugal…. It is most likely that Lusitano had a Black African mother and a white Portuguese father … Comparatively little is known about Lusitano’s life—a fact which has certainly not helped his historical legacy … What we do know is that Lusitano became a Catholic priest, composer, and music theorist, and in 1551 left Portugal for Rome … Lusitano appears to have done very well for himself there, publishing a collection of motets: sacred, polyphonic choral compositions … During the pandemic, two Renaissance music lovers separately discovered Lusitano, and are staging concerts and bringing out records of his work, while a new piece reimagining a Lusitano composition is currently on tour across the UK…. At least now we can put paid to the idea that there simply weren’t any non-white composers writing music in the Renaissance.”