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Hazel Harrison, a Black pianist and teacher and was born on this date in 1883.
She was born in La Porte, IN, the daughter of Hiram James and Olive J. Wood. For almost four decades, Hazel Lucille Harrison held the undisputed title of the “premiere black pianist,” man or woman. In the tradition of most American musicians of the era, she went to Europe in her early 20s for education and employment. For several years she studied in Berlin, gave recitals, and appeared with the Berlin Philharmonic. Returning to the U.S., she performed in Chicago to such acclaim that two women sponsored her return to Europe for more studies.
She spent 1911-14 studying again with Busoni, then launched her performing career, which continued full-time in Europe and the U.S. until 1931. In this year she began her teaching career as head of the piano department at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, and in 1936, she transferred to Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she taught until her retirement in 1955.
She balanced her teaching career with frequent performances, both with the orchestra and in solo recitals throughout the U.S. In 1958, she was lured out of retirement to join the faculty of Alabama State A & M College and later, Jackson College, until 1963. Eileen Southerns’ “Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians” (1982), it states: “Her style was described as skillful, brilliant, and powerful with the depth of a full orchestra, displaying consummate musicianship.” Hazel Harrison died on April 29, 1969, Washington, D.C.
Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York