More than 100 years after his death, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor is not only getting a portrait of himself in his old home town; there’s to be a sketch of the composer unveiled this afternoon in the West End boardroom of PRS Music, the Performing Rights Society, to commemorate his role in the organisation’s founding.
In his day at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, Croydon-based Coleridge-Taylor was 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 commemorative sketch has been donated by the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor 100 Post Mortem Collective. It was commissioned by an organisation called the Beyond The Will Smith Challenge for its role model scheme to highlight African-British male role models.
“Samuel’s contribution to the musical world at a time when his colour could have held him back is nothing short of incredible,” said Guy Fletcher, the chairman of PRS.
“It is right his life and work is celebrated and we would be honoured to have his picture centre stage in our office.”
The 1900 performance of the Song Of Hiawatha trilogy at the Royal Albert Hall in London established Coleridge-Taylor’s place within the British music and publishing world. Coleridge-Taylor toured the United States 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, SCT identified with his African heritage. He provided the music for the 1900 Pan-African Conference in London, and infused African sensibilities into his music.
When he 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 Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast for £15 15s. The Performing Right Society was founded in 1914 partly as a consequence of the deliberations over Coleridge-Taylor’s finances.
A fundraising memorial concert was held in 1912 at the Royal Albert Hall, and King George V provided Coleridge-Taylor’s widow with an annual pension of £100.
Although his heirs did not own the copyright to many of his compositions, they shared in the performing royalties later collected by the PRS.
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