Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was an English composer, conductor and political activist who fought against race prejudice with his incredible compositions.
Born in Holborn in 1875 to an English mother and a father originally from Sierra Leone, he liked to be identified as Anglo-African – and was later referred to by white New York musicians as ‘Black Mahler’, owing to his musical success.
His name was given to him after the famous poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge who, interestingly, became a great source of inspiration during his career.
Raised in a family of keen musicians, Taylor’s father taught him to play the violin at a young age.
Taylor’s classical compositions were heavily influenced by traditional African music and this made him one of the most progressive writers of his time.
He also became well-known for his use of poetry – particularly in his cantata trilogy, The Song of Hiawatha, which included the epic Hiawatha Overture and was based on a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
His work across music and politics was so well received that in 1904, he was even invited by President Theodore Roosevelt to visit the White House – a bold statement and a positive step forward for African Americans.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor died of pneumonia on 1 September 1912 in Croydon, at the age of 37. Throughout his short life, he faced financial struggles and personal tragedy, which are both often linked to his early demise.