It is perhaps the best known and best-loved spiritual of all among the general public..Its title is used as the title of record albums, of books ranging from religious meditation to steamy novels, of radio shows, and even an opera.
– Wayne Shirley,author, The Coming of “Deep River”
Our Video of the Week features a musical glimpse into the life of a fascinating composer: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, born in London in 1875 to an English mother and an African father, who had been bound for America on a rogue slave ship until intercepted and diverted to England by the British Navy. Growing up in Great Britain, which had abolished slavery in 1833, Coleridge-Taylor encountered both racism and opportunity – as a young virtuoso violinist and budding composer, he became a top student at the prestigious Royal College of Music.
Part African, part English, Coleridge-Taylor’s music reveals many strands of influence. One of the turning points of his life came in 1896, when he heard the touring Fisk Jubilee Singers chorus from Nashville, Tennessee, where he first heard traditional African-American spirituals. The music – and the literature (Coleridge-Taylor called W.E.B. DuBois’s 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk “one of the best books I have read by any author, white or black,”) drew the composer to America, where he was celebrated as a conductor and performer on three tours. His first tour in 1904 even included being the first man of color ever invited to the White House, where he was famously – and to some, scandalously – welcomed by President Theodore Roosevelt.
After his tour, Coleridge-Taylor picked up his composing pen and created a series of 24 Negro Melodies for violin and piano, writing in the preface, “What Brahms has done for the Hungarian folk music, Dvorak for the Bohemian, and Grieg for the Norwegian, I have tried to do for these Negro Melodies.”
Violinist Wynton Grant, joined by pianist Hui-Chuan Chen, made his debut on the Heifetz stage with the best-known of the 24, “Deep River.” Catch Wynton in Rhode Island this week, as a member of our Heifetz On Tour troupe in residence at the Jamestown Arts Center!