Star violinist Randall Goosby: ‘Four Black composers you should know in Black History Month’

7 October 2021, 11:36

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Violin virtuoso Randall Goosby shines the spotlight on four brilliant Black composers, William Grant Still, Florence Price, Joseph Boulogne, and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, whose music was until recently, largely written out of the classical canon.

Randall Goosby, an American violinist and protégé of the great Itzhak Perlman, is one of today’s most exciting young classical artists, and a passionate advocate for diversity in classical music.

His debut album Roots, a treasure trove of gorgeous melodies by composers from Gershwin to Grant Still, is a homage to the pioneering voices that paved the way for today’s generation of brilliant Black and ethnically diverse artists – like Goosby himself.

“Classical music really is for everyone and by everyone,” the star violinist told Classic FM this year, adding: “There really is no limit to the number of voices, and the number of stories and cultures, that can be part of the classical music canon.”

To celebrate Black History Month, and all that it means for the world of classical music, Goosby came to Classic FM to speak about the four Black composers honoured in his album, with a few of their most famous melodies thrown in along the way (watch above).

Read more: Meet violinist Randall Goosby, the Perlman protégé set to inspire a generation

  1. William Grant Still

    Randall plays ‘Suite for Violin and Piano’

    “Often known as the Dean of African American composers, he was a man of many firsts, in the way of African American classical musicians in general,” Goosby says. “He was the first to have one of his compositions played by a major American orchestra, the first to conduct one of his own compositions, as well as the first to have one of his compositions broadcast nationally.”

    William Grant Still is known as the 'Dean' of African American composers
    William Grant Still is known as the 'Dean' of African American composers. Picture: Alamy
  2. Florence Price

    Randall plays ‘Adoration’

    “Up until recently, a lot of Florence Price’s music was unknown. It was actually discovered in a former summer home of hers outside of Chicago in 2009. The home was set to be destroyed and instead, they found hundreds of pages of beautiful music written by Florence Price,” Goosby says.

    “She was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, before she ended up at the New England Conservatory in Boston, where she was able to meld her musical roots of singing spirituals with her family and hymns in church, with more Euro-centric practices at the conservatory.”

    Read more: 9 Black composers who changed the course of music history

  3. Joseph Boulogne, Chevailer de Saint-Georges

    Randall plays Violin Concerto No. 9 in G major

    “Born in Guadeloupe to a French plantation owner and one of his slaves, he eventually moved to Paris and studied a number of things. He was obviously a prolifically talented musician and violinist, was also a conductor, composer and a champion fencer – he really did a little bit of everything, and even commanded a legion of the revolutionary army in France. Boulogne was widely celebrated for his talents, and actually gained the affections of one, Marie Antoinette.

    “I don’t know how he had the time or the energy to do all that he did, but he did – and in a completely different time. And it’s been so lovely to see the recognition he’s been starting to regain over the last few years.”

    Joseph Boulogne, Chevailer de Saint-Georges
    Joseph Boulogne, Chevailer de Saint-Georges. Picture: Alamy
  4. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

    Randall plays ‘Suite Op. 3 for Violin and Piano’

    “A graduate of the Royal College of Music, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was widely celebrated not only for his prolific compositional and violinistic talents, but namely for his choral and orchestral compositions.

    “Actually the great Edward Elgar was the one who recommended him for a premiere at the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester, and it was so well received that it was said to have perhaps dwarfed one of Elgar’s own compositions in reception…”

    English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was championed by Sir Edward Elgar
    English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was championed by Sir Edward Elgar. Picture: Alamy

Discover more Black and ethnically diverse classical composers here, and more about young violin star Randall Goosby here.