George Theophilus Walker (1922-2018) was born in Washington, D.C. June 27, 1922 of West Indian-American parentage. A superb pianist and esteemed academic, he was the first African American to win a Pulitzer prize for music (in 1996, for his Walt Whitman song-cycle, Lilacs), and his career as a pianist and composer is, especially in his early decades, a story of firsts. He was the first black graduate of the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia in 1945, the first black musician to play New York’s Town Hall in the same year, the first black recipient of a doctorate from the Eastman School in 1955, the first black tenured faculty member at Smith College in 1961 – and many more.
Walker composed over 90 works for orchestra, chamber orchestra, piano, strings, voice, organ, clarinet, guitar, brass, woodwinds, and chorus. His works have been performed by virtually every major orchestra in the United States and by many in England and other countries.
One of America’s most distinguished composers, George Walker died in 2018 at the age of 96/