Went to a great talk recently at the National Portrait Gallery by author Charles Elford about composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor to mark the centenary year of his death.  Even though Charles had written his own book about him, he read excerpts from another author Jeffrey Green.

I had heard of Samuel before but this talk really gave a more detailed insight into his achievements.

Samuel was born 15th August 1875  to Alice Hare Martin, an English woman, and Dr Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor, from Sierra Leone.  There is no evidence of them being married. He grew up with his mother and her family in Croydon.  Samuel did not know his father who had left before he was born.    

Receiving a scholarship to attend the Royal College of Music aged 17.  His most well-known composition was Hiawatha Wedding Feast.  Samuel married fellow student Jessie Walmisley on 30th December 1899, despite opposition from her family due to him being mixed race.  They had two children Gwen and Hiawatha.

Unfortunately, by selling the rights to publishers of his work it left him with no royalties.  It was exhausting listening to the many jobs he held down to make ends meet which included lecturer and conductor at numerous organisations.  African-American spirituals were a huge influence to his music and he formed friendships with poet and playwright Paul Laurence Dunbar and historian and Pan-Africanist WEB Du Bois. Travelling extensively and even meeting President Roosevelt at the White House in 1904.

There was a cost to being overworked and he fell ill at West Croydon station, eventually dying of pneumonia aged 37 years old on 1st September 1912.

At the question and answer session at the end of the talk I asked if there were any of Samuel’s descendants here and was surprised to see a couple of hands shoot up.  It was great speaking with them.

There was one mystery, we learnt that Samuel found out his father had died.  I wonder who told him and his feelings about that?

I left having learnt more about this great composer and my overriding feeling was that he had so much more to give but it was sadly cut short.