Pulitzer Prize winning composer and pianist George Walker
On Monday, April 2, 2018 the Eastman School of Music recognized the accomplishments, and celebrated the 95th birthday of composer George Theophilus Walker, (June 27, 1922 – August 23, 2018) the first black recipient of a doctoral degree from the Eastman School of Music. This was one of Walker's last public appearances.
Walker was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for music for his 1996 Walt-Whitman song-cycle, Lilacs. His list of compositions spans decades, including his most performed work written early in his career, the Lyric for Strings (1946), his 10-minute compact Sinfonia No. 4 Strands (2012) and two commissions for the Eastman School of Music, Foils for Orchestra and Hommage to Saint George.
As a piano virtuoso, George Walker claimed many “first-time achievements for an African-American instrumentalist.” Although breaking through the barrier of race, prejudice, lack of opportunity and segregation was an important part of his life, the importance of craft and quality in his musical compositions was far more important to him. Watch this Meet George Walker video.
The spring 2018 celebration featured much of Walker’s music, performed by his son Gregory (violin) with pianist Irina Lupines (private event), and a public concert at 7:30 p.m. in Hatch Recital Hall by pianist Redi Llupa, performing Walker’s Five Sonatas for Piano. This was only the second time all five have been performed together. More about George T. Walker and the event.
Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, pianist and educator George Walker died on Thursday, August 23, 2018 at Mountainside Hospital in Montclair, N.J. at the age of 96. Walker's death was first announced to NPR by one of his family members, Karen Schaefer. Gregory Walker, the composer's son, said his father died after complications of a kidney ailment.
Walker's music was firmly rooted in the modern classical tradition, but also drew from African-American spirituals and jazz. His nearly 100 compositions range broadly, from intricately orchestrated symphonic works and concertos to intimate songs and solo piano pieces.