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Sun, 12.20.1863

Mamie Hilyer, Classical Music Advocate born

Mamie Hilyer

*Mamie Hilyer was born on this date in 1863.  She was a Black pianist and promoter of classical music.  

Mamie Elizabeth Nichols was born in the District of Columbia.  An accomplished pianist, she was an 'active member of the city's Black upper class. Hilyer became a devoted champion of 'good music' and its cultivation among Black Washingtonians. She married Andrew Franklin Hilyer, a businessman, author, and civil rights leader, in 1886.  The couple had a son, Gale Pillsbury Hilyer. He attended Howard University, followed by the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1912 and becoming a lawyer. He helped to establish an NAACP branch in Minneapolis.  The Hilyers also had a daughter, Kathleen.  

In 1897, Hilyer founded the Treble Clef Club, an 'important group that offered leadership in the community by presenting annual concerts and encouraging young musicians.   She also created the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society.  The Treble Clef Club brought together professional women musicians and teachers of music interested in study and self-development.  Hilyer described it in 1900 as a small band of married women who are music lovers. Another founding member was Harriet Gibbs Marshall. With an emphasis on Black composers, the Treble Clef Club sought to bring the 'best music' to the community. 

This paralleled the founding of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1896.  The Club’s annual public recital was 'the only high-class musical entertainment that was free in Washington at that time.  In 1961, the Treble Clef club was described as having 'made notable contributions to the cultural life of Washington, D. C., during its long lifetime.' This, after having met Coleridge-Taylor, on an overseas trip, a meeting facilitated by Frederick J. Loudin.   On her return to the United States, she established a choral group that might perform Coleridge-Taylor's compositions, promote and fundraise for society through piano performances, and more.  

The Treble Clef Club helped to generate public interest and to raise funds through activities, including musical teas and salons.  Hilyer, Emma Williams, Josephine Ball, and Amanda Gray formed the Chibiabos Quartet, a reference to Longfellow's 'The Song of Hiawatha.'  The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society numbered between 160 and 200 voices, generating praise from local and national Black newspapers and welcoming multi-racial audiences, which were sometimes so large that people had to be turned away.

 In 1904, Coleridge-Taylor came to Washington D.C. to conduct the society in performing his cantata Hiawatha's Wedding Feast.  His public praise for accompanist Mary Europe enhanced her reputation and diversified her audience within Washington's musical circles. Mamie Hilyer, who played a significant role in nurturing the district's musical culture, died on December 14, 1916.  Her death was reported in the Minneapolis/St. Paul paper, The Appeal, as being 'rather sudden, following a supposed successful operation several weeks ago.'  It noted Hilyer's prominent role in the 'musical life of the capitol.'  

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