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Tue, 08.10.1880

Clarence Cameron White, Violinist born

Clarence White

*The birth of Clarence Cameron White in 1880 is marked on this date. He was a Black violinist and composer.

Born in Clarksville, Tennessee, Clarence Cameron White spent his childhood in Oberlin, Ohio, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Washington, D. C. He began studying the violin at the age of eight and wrote his first composition for violin and piano at age fourteen. After graduating from Howard University, White entered the Oberlin Conservatory in 1896 and graduated in 1901. He studied and performed in Boston, New Haven, and New York and drew the attention of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Harry T. Burleigh, and Booker T. Washington.

In 1903 he was invited to join the Washington D. C. Conservatory and later taught in public schools there.  During that time, he studied with Joseph Douglass.  The following year, he met Black-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor with whom he studied in London in 1906 and again from 1908 to 1911. After performing throughout Europe, he established a studio in Boston where he conducted the Victoria Concert Orchestra from 1914 until 1924. He was also music director at West Virginia State College from 1924 to 1931. He first became interested in Haitian music and history here through his friend, Professor John F. Matheus. The two men traveled to Haiti and together composed an opera based on the life of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a slave who led a revolution and became the first emperor of Haiti.

The opera was titled Ouanga, which means "Voodoo Charm." The work was performed in Chicago, winning an American Opera Society of Chicago award. The Burleigh Musical Association first produced it for the stage in 1949 in South Bend, Indiana. The opera was also performed in Philadelphia (1950) and New York at Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera House (1956). After living in Chicago and Elizabeth, New Jersey, where his first wife died, White moved to New York City in 1943 and married his second wife, Pura Belpre.

He was one of America's most exceptional composers and violinists of the first half of the twentieth century. White played at many of the principal concert halls in the United States and Europe. His tours as a violinist received critical praise. Influenced by folk music, White composed violin, and orchestral works and arranged African American spirituals. Well-known is his Symphony in D Minor, an orchestral piece entitled Elegy, the ballet score A Night in Sans Souci, and a cantata, Heritage, performed at the Church of the Master shortly before he died in 1960.

To Become a Musician or Singer


ASCAP Biographical Dictionary
R. R. Bowker Co., Copyright 1980
ISBN 0-8351-1283-1

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