George Theophilus Walker (1922-2018) was born in Washington, D.C. June 27, 1922 of West Indian-American parentage.
George Walker became the first Black composer to receive the coveted Pulitzer Prize for music, for his work Lilacs (1996). In 2003 he was selected for inclusion in the Washington Music Hall of Fame (Washington, DC).
He became the first Black composer to be performed at the Cabrillo Festival in 2011. Additional awards in 2011 were received from the National Council of Negro Women and the Newark School for the Arts.
With his “notable” debut, as it was described by the New York Times, he became the first Black instrumentalist to perform in Town Hall, New York. In 1945 he was the first Black instrumentalist to appear with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The second movement of his String Quartet no. 1 (1946), entitled Lyric for Strings, has become the most frequently performed orchestral work by a living American composer. In 1950, George Walker became the first Black instrumentalist to be signed by a major management, the National Concert Artists.
In 1956, he became the first Black recipient of a doctoral degree from the Eastman School of Music as well as an Artist Diploma in Piano.
George Walker has 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.
“This composer has finally gotten the recognition he deserves.” Zubin Mehta, conductor (Star Ledger, April 14, 1996)