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About Us

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About The Society

Founded in 2017, The Harry T. Burleigh Society is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that upholds Burleigh’s legacy for innovative black classical musicianship through supporting performances by and related to African American baritone and composer Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949). The Society continues Burleigh’s radical legacy of disrupting boundaries and challenging social norms to address the issues of the day through art. Through its programs, the Society offers opportunities to a new generation of artists. The Society values creative,  intergenerational encounters, all fortified by beauty, seriousness, and compensation that follow Burleigh’s model and raise awareness about the broad swath of his impact.

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About Harry T. Burleigh

On the 150th anniversary of Burleigh’s birth, Society co-founders Lynne Foote and Dr. Marti Slaten organized to develop a resource for those engaging the work and life of baritone and composer Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949).

Born in Erie, Pennsylvania and a descendant of slaves, Burleigh’s time as a student at The National Conservatory (1892-1896) led him on a path that still resounds. After his composition studies with then-conservatory director Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904), Burleigh arranged and published the first solo voice-piano arrangement of the concert spiritual, “Deep River” (1917, G. Ricordi). This arrangement cemented the concretization of spirituals as art songs, and placed Burleigh at the fore of a movement in which other composers, singers, worshipers, and listeners engaged with concert spirituals.

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Source: Jean E. Snyder, “Harry T. Burleigh: From the Spiritual to the Harlem Renaissance” p. 351

Source: Granger Historical Photo Archive  HARRY BURLEIGH (1866-1949). American composer. Photographed c1938.

Burleigh also composed songs with texts by a diverse set of poets, and wrote instrumental music including a piano suite. He was active in multiple facets of the music world: in the Western art song tradition as both a composer and singer, the publishing industry as an editor for G. Ricordi, a charter member of ASCAP, and forged a career as a baritone soloist at St. George’s Episcopal Church and Temple Emanu-El, where he was in the racial minority as an African American.

Burleigh was also a mentor to acclaimed singers such as Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson. He was active in the intellectual life of his era, corresponding with friends and colleagues including James Weldon Johnson, Will Marion Cook, W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and S. Coleridge Taylor. His legacy exemplifies the profound possibilities and lessons of the lives of African American art musicians—which the Society explores and expands. The Society models Burleigh in nurturing forums that circulate anti-racist accounts of American history and culture.

 
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Dr. Marti Slaten

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AND CO-FOUNDER

Soprano Marti Slaten’s artistry is at home in English language works, especially black art music. Hailed as an “elegant signer” with “excellent diction and the stance of dignified restraint” (William Bolcom, composer), and a “standout” (Marion Lignana Rosenberg, The Classical Review) with a “striking ability to snap between characters on a dime” (Brin Solomon, National Sawdust), Slaten thrives singing and supporting singers.

She is a recitalist and choral adjudicator who has been soloist with Melodeon, The Fisk Jubilee Singers, Opera Noire of New York, and Harlem Opera Theater, and has been a chorister in New York City Opera’s production of “Anna Nicole” and the Opera Orchestra of New York’s “Roberto Devereux.” She holds degrees in Music and African American Studies from Oberlin (BA, BM) and Columbia (MA, MA, PhD).

Her husband Whitney and her son Wesley are her most important audience.

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Coniqua Johnson

COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER

Since her early years Coniqua Johnson has had a passion for inclusivity, civic engagement, non-profit capacity building and personal empowerment. This passion has influenced her to earn a M.S. in Nonprofit Management from the New School alongside a B.S. in Public Policy and Public Affairs from Sage College of Albany. Throughout the span of her career, she has worked in various sectors such as local and state government, sexual reproductive health, education and anti-harassment work which has included training, programming, logistics and operations.


At her core, Coniqua is committed to uplifting Black women and people through storytelling, art, and challenging mainstream culture that perpetuates the erasure of Black life, history, and contributions made by Black folks. In her free time she is a self-proclaimed natural skin, beauty and hair care enthusiast who runs an online hair and beauty store powered by non-toxic, Black & women-owned brands, and enjoys consuming all things Black and pop-culture.  


Coniqua is thrilled to be with the Burleigh Society and hopes to be able to continue the work of embodying the legacy of Harry T. Burleigh through storytelling, communications, and non-profit capacity building while bridging her multifaceted experiences.