Beyond the Basics: 4 More African-American Composers To Know

The work of Black and African-American composers has historically been underrepresented in the classical music world. At CYSO, we prioritize playing works by composers of color and women composers on every program and this season, a number of ensembles have and will perform works by a range of African-American composers. As we celebrate Black History Month this February, CYSO social media team member and Concert Orchestra horn player Mina Pollack gathered together the stories of some of the African-American composers you’ll hear performed by CYSO ensembles this year.

Carlos Simon

Carlos Simon headshot

Carlos Simon is a Grammy Nominee, composer, and activist. He was born in Washington DC and was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Growing up, Carlos was surrounded by gospel music and as a child, he was forbidden to listen to anything other than gospel. This influenced him to compose his own music. At the age of ten, Carlos started piano lessons and became a pianist and musical director for artists Angie Stone and Jennifer Holliday.

Philharmonic Orchestra performed Carlos Simon’s An Elegy: A Cry from the Grave at their fall 2023 concert.

Florence Price

Florence Price headshot

Born in Little rock, Arkansas, Florence Price was a pianist and music teacher. After the Jim Crow laws were established, she moved to Chicago, IL to avoid racial discrimination. After completing high school, she trained at the New England Conservatory of Music located in Boston, Massachusetts. Price is best known as the first African- American woman to be recognized as a symphonic conductor. Throughout her career, she passed as Mexican to avoid racial discrimination against African- Americans. 

Don’t miss Accelerando Strings’ performance of Florence Price’s Adoration at the Black Heritage Performing Arts Community Concert on February 10th.

Thad Jones

Thad Jones headshot

Best known for his self-taught trumpet playing, Thad Jones grew up in a very musical family of 10. He began professionally performing at the age of 16 in the U.S military band during WWII. Later, Jones became a member of the Count Basie Orchestra in 1954 and left in 1965 to move to New York to become a freelance arranger and composer/musician. He started the “Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra” with drummer Mel Lewis. In 1978 the group won a Grammy for their album “Live in Munich.

CYSO’s Jazz Orchestra performed Thad Jones’ “A Child is Born” at their fall 2023 concert. 

Irving Burgie

Irving Burgie headshot

Irving Burgie was an American musician and songwriter. He is often professionally known as “Lord Burgess” and known as one of the greatest composers of Caribbean music. He joined the US army in WWII and served in Burma, China, and India. After the war, he studied at the Julliard school. After graduating, he began singing and playing guitar in New York playing repertoire from songs he’d learned in the Caribbean that he had learned as a child growing up.

Groove Steel ensemble performed Irving Burgie’s Day-O at their fall 2023 performance.

Check out our post on More Black Composers You Should Know to continue expanding your knowledge!


Mina Pollack is a thirteen-year-old horn player in CYSO’s Concert Orchestra. She began her musical studies on the violin at the age of 3, then switched to the french horn at the age of 10.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This