Classical Album of the Week: Black Composers Series from the '70s Revisited

Feb 2, 2020

February 3, 2020. WRTI celebrates the beginning of Black History Month by spotlighting the Black Composers Series, which marks the achievements of African Americans and recognizes their role in U.S. history, and in the history of American and world music.

Forty years ago, CBS Masterworks released this series of recordings that featured the music of Black composers. There were nine LPs which featured the conductor Paul Freeman.

The complete Black Composers Series was reissued last year in a boxed set with each CD remastered from the original analog tapes.  The composers featured span several centuries and come from many different backgrounds. Included is an extra album, Hale Smith’s Symphonic Spirituals. They were originally releaed by Freeman in 1979, and are arrangements of 12 spirituals for voice and orchestra.

The real stars of the collection are the Black composers, many of whom may not be well-known today.

Some names will be familiar to WRTI listeners, such as Joseph Bologne known as the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, William Grant Still and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

Also featured are those who have made their mark from the 20th century and into the 21st century, such as George Walker, the only composer in the series to have won a Pulitzer Prize in composition. There’s Thomas Jefferson Anderson, the first Black composer to have the title "Composer-In-Residence" with a symphony orchestra.

The performers in this collection include the London Symphony Orchestra, the Baltimore and Detroit Symphony Orchestras and the Juilliard String Quartet.