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Tue, 11.26.1907

Rudolph Dunbar, Clarinetist and Conductor born

Rudolph Dunbar

Rudolph Dunbar was born on this date in 1907. He was a Guyanese conductor, clarinetist, and composer.

Dunbar was born in Nabaclis, British Guyana. He was 14 when he joined the British Guiana Militia Band as a clarinet-playing apprentice. He immigrated to the United States five years later and began studying at the Institute of Musical Art (now the Juilliard School) in New York, where he was also involved with the Harlem jazz scene. During this time, he was a recording artist, playing clarinet solos. He also established a friendship with black composer William Grant Still.

After graduating from music school in 1925, Dunbar moved to Paris, where he established himself as a clarinetist of the highest order. In 1931, he moved to London, where he worked as a music critic and started a clarinet school, attracting international students.  In 1939, he was commissioned to write a textbook on the clarinet, and his “Treatise on the Clarinet” (Boehm System) became an essential reference work for the instrument. It remained in print through 10 editions.

Dunbar promoted the performance of the music of many black composers. He played alongside Still in the Harlem Orchestra around 1924, and the autograph of Still’s Festive Overture of 1944 is dedicated this way: "To my dear friend, Rudolph Dunbar." He was the youngest of any race to conduct the London Philharmonic and the first black man to do so.  He also was the first black man to conduct an orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

During World War II, Dunbar became a war correspondent in Europe for the Associated Negro Press of Chicago but had to flee Germany and return to London. He returned to Germany shortly after the war and led the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra in battledress as its first postwar guest conductor. This performance made him the first Black man to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic (1945).

He lived most of his later life in London, where he died on June 10, 1988.

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