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George Walker

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George Walker

Biography

George Theophilus Walker (27 June 1922 in Washington, D.C. - 24 August 2018, Montclair, N.J.) was an African-American composer, pianist and educator of West-Indian-American descent.

Walker was first exposed to music at the age of five when he began to play the piano. He was admitted to the Oberlin Conservatory at 14. He also took artist diplomas in piano and composition from the Curtis Institute of Music, becoming the distinguished conservatory's first Black graduate in 1945.His doctorate from the Eastman School of Music came in 1951. Walker studied composition with Rosario Scalero who also taught Samuel Barber and Gian-Carlo Menotti.

As a composer, Walker's music has been influenced by a wide variety of musical styles due to his exposure to the music of Chopin, Brahms, Beethoven, jazz, folk songs, and church hymns. Unwilling to conform to a specific style, Walker drew from his diverse knowledge of previous music to create something which he could call his own. While a work such as Spatials for Piano uses twelve-tone serial techniques, Walker would also write in the style of pop music such as in his song Leaving. According to Mickey Terry, traces of old Black spirituals can also be found in his second Sonata for violin and piano. D. Maxine Sims has stated that Walker's piano technique is also reflected in his works, such as his Piano Sonata No. 2.

His awards include the Harvey Gaul Prize, MacDowell Colony, Yaddo and Bennington Composer Conference Fellowships, two Guggenheim Fellowships, two Rockefeller Fellowships, a Fromm Foundation commission, two Koussevitsky Awards, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, a Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust Award, the Mason Gross Memorial Award, numerous grants from the Research Councils of Smith College, The University of Colorado, Rutgers University, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New Jersey Council on the Arts. He has received two Alumni Awards from the Eastman School of Music, the University Medal from the University of Rochester (1996), honorary doctorate degrees from Lafayette College (1982), Oberlin College (1983), Montclair State University, Bloomfield College, Curtis Institute of Music (1996) and Spelman College (2001).

In 1996, George Walker became the first black composer to receive the coveted Pulitzer Prize in music for his work Lilacs for Voice and Orchestra, premiered by the Boston Symphony, Seiji Ozawa conducting. In 1997 Marion Barry, Mayor of Washington, D.C., proclaimed June 17th as George Walker Day in the nation's capitol. In 1998, he received the Composers Award from the Lancaster Symphony and the letter of Distinction from the American Music Center for "his significant contributions to the field of contemporary American Music." In 1999, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In April 2000, George Walker was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Walker taught at Rutgers University, retiring in 1992.


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