Harry T. Burleigh Society

Advancing Burleigh Studies through scholarship and performance

 

 

MISSION

Founded in 2017, The Harry T. Burleigh Society is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that advances Burleigh Studies through supporting performances of compositions by and scholarship about African American baritone and composer Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949). Grounded in African American history and culture, and committed to social justice, the Society fosters interrelationships between scholars, artists, and institutions through enabling the accessibility, audibility and legibility of Burleigh’s work.

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 Portrait of HTB, circa 1900

Portrait of HTB, circa 1900


 

ABOUT THE SOCIETY

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

Born in Erie, Pennsylvania and a descendent of slaves, Burleigh’s activity 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 a concert spiritual, “Deep River” (1917, G. Ricordi). This cemented the concertization of spirituals as art songs and put Burleigh in motion to lead other composers, singers, worshipers, and listeners to participate in concert spiritual engagement.

Distinct from the concert spiritual choral tradition led by the Fisk Jubilee Singers in the 1870s, the solo concert spiritual called for a professionalization of spiritual singing and arranging. Burleigh also composed songs with texts by a diverse set of poets, and wrote instrumental music including a piano suite. Participating in the Western art song tradition as both a composer and singer, the publishing industry as an editor for G. Ricordi, and a charter member of ASCAP, Burleigh 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 voice pedagogue, teaching 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 follows Burleigh in providing forum for anti-racist American history and culture.

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STAFF

 

Lynne Foote, President and Co-Founder

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Lynne Foote initially heard about Harry T. Burleigh while attending St. George’s Church where he was the baritone soloist from 1894 to 1946. However, it was not until she was in Dr. Newland’s 2015 Columbia course, “Music Humanities: Masterpieces of Western Music,” that she discovered all the connections she and Burleigh shared.

In addition to St. George’s, she has a home in Onteora Park in the Catskill Mountains, a summer community founded by Jeannette Thurber, her husband, Francis, and her sister-in-law, Candace Wheeler. Jeanette Thurber found the National Conservatory of Music, where Burleigh was a scholarship student from 1892 to 1894, and where he famously collaborated with Antonin Dvorak on the Negro spiritual themes in the Symphony from the New World.

Through Dr. Newland’s class, the significance of Burleigh to American music and history became clear and intriguing. Dr. Newland’s support encouraged her pursuit of graduate work on Burleigh, with particular emphasis on his importance to American intellectual history, New York City’s Jim Crow history, and to the American musical canon.  

After graduating from Columbia University in 2016 with a degree in American Studies, Lynne pursued a master’s degree in U.S History at University of Oxford, graduating in 2017. Her master’s thesis, “Deep River: The Negro Spiritual and Black Intellectual Thought, 1900–1930,” put Burleigh, W.E.B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson in conversation about the spiritual and black cultural production. She now continues her Burleigh studies in the PhD program in Oxford’s American History Faculty with a project provisionally titled, “An Uplifted Voice:  Harry T. Burleigh and Freedom Music in Jim Crow New York (1890 – 1930).”

Lynne is interested the intersection of race – including whiteness – with late 19th and early 20th century U.S. cultural, gender history, and urban history. She is also considering the how the analytics of the black radical tradition may open new lines of inquiry and new paths of consideration and appreciation of Burleigh’s compositions, performances and cultural legacy.

When home from studies in the UK, Lynne spends time in New York City and Onteora Park with her husband, Steven, and visiting her six grown children in their various life adventures.

 
 

Dr. Marti Newland, Executive Director and Co-Founder

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Dr. Newland’s work intersects black expressive culture, art music, and institutionality, informing her commitment to The Burleigh Society as Executive Director and Co-Founder. Compelled by the endless beauty and lessons of concert spirituals since she was a teenager, she has long been impacted and motivated by Harry T. Burleigh’s life, especially his command in professionalizing concert spirituals.

Newland is proud to be a leader whose strengths in founding organizations leads to their longevity. She brings leadership experience co-founding the Oberlin Conservatory Black Musicians’ Guild (2001) and the New York City Mellon Fellows’ Writing Retreats (2012), both of which are continuously active since their founding. She is a Ford Foundation Fellow, and has won grants from The Mellon Foundations and the Social Science Research Council for her research about African American vocality.

A classical soprano, Newland shares her artistic and scholarly expertise in African American vocal art music through her work as a choral adjudicator and has offered lecture-recitals at Bard, Brooklyn College, Columbia, Reed, St. Olaf and the Society for American Music. A chorister in New York City Opera’s production of “Anna Nicole” the Opera Orchestra of New York’s “Roberto Devereux,” she has also been a guest soloist with the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Opera Noire of New York, and Harlem Opera Theater.

Her publications and performances include contributions to American Music Review, Current Musicology, and Melodeon. She holds degrees in Music and African American Studies from Oberlin (BA, BM) and Columbia (MA, MA, PhD). Her husband Whitney Slaten and her son Wesley are her most important audience.

 
 

Kori Hill, Director of Social Media

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Kori Hill is a Ph.D. student in musicology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her dissertation studies the stylistic language and modernist approaches in the concertos of Florence Price. Other research interests include music modernism(s), racialization of music, and exchanges between black American and Haitian music and culture in the early twentieth century. These areas of study are part of her broader interest in black music histories, particularly classical music.

Kori holds a Master of Music in music history and violin performance from West Virginia University (’15) and a Bachelors of Music in performance from Miami University (’08). She has performed and taught repertoire by black composers, which remains an important component of her scholarly initiative: to bring the music of composers like Burleigh and his contemporaries to new audiences. In her free time, Kori is an avid reader, movie watcher, and Instagrammer.

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