The life and work of a British-born musical genius of African heritage who died a century ago was the subject of a presentation at the WEB Du Bois Centre in Accra on Thursday. Entitled ‘Remembering Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’, the presentation, which was organised by UK-based voluntary organisation BTWSC and led by music industry and history consultant Kwaku, highlighted some of the achievements in Coleridge-Taylor’s short life.
Coleridge-Taylor was born in London in 1875 to a British mother and a Sierra Leonean father. He died in 1912, aged 37. Within his short life, he made a great impression within music, both in Britain and internationally, especially in the US, where he successfully toured three times. Within a year of completing his studies at London’s Royal College Of Music, he created two popular compositions in 1898 – ‘A Ballade In A Minor’, and ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast’. The latter, a choral and orchestral piece which vied with earlier choral classics such as ‘Messiah’ and Elijah’, was the composition that brought him to global prominence.
In addition to composing and touring, Coleridge-Taylor spent his time adjudicating competitions, conducting, and teaching – he held a number of professorships in composition. In spite of his fame, he prided himself in being African, and incorporated African themes within the classical music genre. He was also a pan-Africanist - he was he a member of the African Association, which organised the 1900 Pan-African Conference in London, where he was in charge of the music programme.
The presentation, which is being delivered in London schools and libraries, was adapted to take cognisance of the venue. It ended with an insight into the enduring relationship between the Coleridge-Taylor family and Du Bois.
The links with Du Bois and other African-American leaders such as the educationalist Booker T Washingtion, were highlighted in the opening speech by Mr BS Ato Keelson, director of the WEB Du Bois Centre. Other speakers included His Excellency Mr KB Asante, who spoke of his colonial education at Achimota College, where his British music mistress did not only teach about Coleridge-Taylor’s compositions such as ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast’, but also tried to widen their horizons by stressing the fact that the composer was African.
Dr DEK Baku, head of history at the University Of Ghana, spoke about his discovery of Coleridge-Taylor in a book during the research stages for his PhD, which also highlighted other leading pan-African thinkers such as Mensah Sarbah and Kobina Sekyi, both Gold Coasters.
During the Q&A session, some of the members of the audience gave personal accounts. A member of the audience talked about her grandfather who had come to work in the Gold Coast from Dominica, and had attended the 1990 Pan-African Conference. She is researching on any correspondence there may have been between her grandfather and Coleridge-Taylor.
Members of the Sierra Leonean community spoke of the daughters of the Smith family of Freetown who knew Coleridge-Taylor, and had extended the link to Ghana, having married Gold Coasters such as the lawyer and politician Mr JE Casely-Hayford, and Dr William Awoonor Renner. Professor Kwabena Nketia, who experienced performances of Coleridge-Taylor’s music whilst studying in London, was on hand to fill in the gaps regarding Sierra Leonean musicians who had some connection to Coleridge-Taylor.
The event was produced by BTWSC in association with WEB Du Bois Memorial Centre For Pan African Culture, BritishBlackMusic.com/Black Music Congress, and the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor 100PM Collective. There was sponsorship by La Community Bank.
BTWSC is planning to organise a workshop in September entitled ‘What Does It Mean To Be A Global African?’
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Photos top to bottom
HE Mr KB Asante
HE Mr KB Asante
Group shot left to right: Kwaku, KB Asante, Dr DEK Baku, Prof Kabena Nketia, and BS Ato Keelson
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor is one of those highlighted in the ‘NARM (Naming And Role Models): Highlighting African British Male Role Models 1907 – 2007’ book written by Kwaku and published by BTWSC. A free electronic version can be downloaded from www.BTWSC.com/NARM.