On June 19 2013, as part of marking British Black Music Month (BBMM) a sketch of African British classical composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was unveiled in the boardroom of PRS for Music. The private ceremony consisted of PRS staff, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor 100 PM Collective members, and representatives of the Royal College of Music and Royal Choral Society.
“Samuel’s contribution to the
musical world at a time when his colour could have held him back is
nothing short of incredible," said PRS chair Guy Fletcher, whose organisation was "honoured to have Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's picture centre stage in our
SC-T's image brings to six the number of Africans and Asians (out of 15) whose images adorn the music industry collection society's boardroom. They are Beverley Knight, Courtney Pine, Mutya Buena, Talvin Singh and AR Rahman.
When SC-T died in 1912, there was great furore in the media after the
poor finances of his estate was revealed - he sold outright the
publishing rights to his biggest hit ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast’ for
£15.75. The Performing Right Society (PRS) was founded in 1914 partly as
a consequence of the deliberations over Coleridge-Taylor’s finances.
Trade magazine Music Week covered the unveiling, which was the Music Managers Forum (MMF) CEO Jon 'Webbo' Webster heard of SC-T. At the MMF/BritishBlackMusic.com/Black Music Congress organised Talking Copyright: Should Copyright Be Owned By Creators Rather Than Corporations? seminar on June 21 2013, Webbo highlighted SC-T's case with his biggest hit, and urged writers to retain their copyright whenever possible.
The unveiled image is donated by the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor 100 PM
Collective. It was commissioned by Collective member organisation BTWSC
for its ‘NARM (Naming And Role Model) Highlighting African British Male
Role Models 1907-2007’ (BTWSC 2010) book. Coleridge-Taylor is one of the
50 NARM role models
Coleridge-Taylor was in his day as famous as today’s pop and rock stars and as successful as Paul McCartney and Elton John. His composition, ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast’, made him a global star with numerous choral societies named after him at home and abroad.
The 1900 performance of the ‘Song Of Hiawatha’ trilogy at the Royal Albert Hall in London established his place within the British music and publishing world. Coleridge-Taylor toured the US three times, where his popularity transcended the racial segregation prevalent at the time. He became the first African to conduct an all European orchestra, and was invited to the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Born to an English mother and a Sierra Leonean doctor father, whom he never met, he nevertheless identified with his African heritage. He provided the music for the 1900 Pan-African Conference in London, and infused African sensibilities into his music, as evidenced by titles such as ‘African Romances’ (1897), ‘African Suite’ (1899), ‘Toussaint L'Ouverture’ (1901), ‘Four African Dances’ (1904), and ‘24 Negro Melodies’ (1905).
When he died in 1912 aged just 37, a fundraising memorial concert was held later that year at the Royal Albert Hall, and King George V provided Coleridge-Taylor’s widow with an annual pension of £100.
The Royal Choral Society as a fundraising exercise chose ‘The Song Of Hiawatha’ over longer-established oratorios such as Handel’s 'Messiah’ and Mendelssohn's 'Elijah', which was performed annually at the Royal Albert Hall between 1924 to 1939.
Although his SC-T's heirs did not own the copyright to many of his compositions, they shared in the performing royalties later collected by the PRS.