George Theophilus Walker

George Theophilus Walker (June 27, 1922 – August 23, 2018) was an American composer and pianist. He is best known as the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music. Walker was born in Washington, D.C., and showed an early aptitude for music. He began piano lessons at the age of five and went on to study piano, composition, and organ at various institutions, including the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the Eastman School of Music.

Walker’s compositions span a wide range of genres, including symphonies, concertos, chamber music, vocal works, and solo piano pieces. He was influenced by various musical styles, including classical, jazz, and African American spirituals. Walker’s music is characterized by its emotional depth, technical virtuosity, and rich harmonic language.

Composer George Walker takes a bow at a performance of his Pulitzer-winning piece, Lilacs, in California in 1996.

In 1996, George Walker received the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his composition “Lilacs” for voice and orchestra. The piece is based on the poetry of Walt Whitman and explores themes of love, loss, and memory. This historic achievement made Walker the first African American composer to receive this prestigious award.

Throughout his career, Walker was a dedicated educator, teaching at several institutions, including the Smith College and the University of Colorado. He also served as a guest lecturer and artist-in-residence at various universities and music festivals.

George Theophilus Walker’s contributions to the world of classical music have been widely recognized. His compositions have been performed by major orchestras and ensembles around the world, and he has received numerous awards and honors for his work. Walker’s achievements as a composer and his trailblazing role as an African American in the classical music community have left an enduring legacy.

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