Royal College of Music Museum
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and the Musical Fight for Civil Rights
FREE - Online
The Royal College of Music Museum's Samuel Coleridge-Taylor exhibition celebrates the composer’s important role within civil rights movements in Britain and the US around the turn of the twentieth century. Coleridge-Taylor was a student at the College, and the exhibition draws on his remarkable collections which are held at its Museum.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born in London in 1875. His mother Alice was British, whilst his father hailed from Freetown in Sierra Leone. Dr. Daniel Taylor had met Alice whilst studying in Britain, but most likely returned to West Africa without realising that she was pregnant. He never met his son. The young Coleridge-Taylor was given a violin by his maternal grandfather, and soon displayed great musical talent. He joined the Royal College of Music in 1890, studying composition under Charles Villiers Stanford. Coleridge-Taylor soon became a musical celebrity thanks to his trilogy of cantatas, known collectively as The Song of Hiawatha. Until the Second World War, this was one of the most performed choral pieces in Britain, rivalled only by Handel’s Messiah and Mendelssohn’s Elijah.
Coleridge-Taylor has often been remembered because of his unusual and important status as a black musician who gained prominence in late-Victorian and Edwardian Britain – a black man in a white man’s world. The new exhibition seeks to flip this narrative by examining the composer’s role within black networks. It demonstrates that Coleridge-Taylor was active within Pan-African groups in the UK, participating in important meetings and writing for publications including the African Times. The exhibition also explores his relationships with leading civil rights activists, including W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington.
Find out more about the Royal College of Music Museum