Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Twenty-Four Negro Melodies, Op. 59

New album set to be released in October 2022 – stay tuned to this page for purchase/streaming options, as well as album celebration events!

“24 Negro Melodies by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor is one of the most significant contributions to piano literature of the early 20th century. Kim Davenport is a sincere interpreter who approaches this music orchestrally and virtuosically without abandoning gravitas.

This monumental recording, a result of her continued advocacy of Black composers, is a balm for the entire classical community.” 
Joe Williams, arts leader


About the Composer and Music

“What Brahms has done for the Hungarian folk music, Dvorak for the Bohemian, and Grieg for the Norwegian, I have tried to do for these Negro melodies.”

With this statement, British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) placed his Twenty-Four Negro Melodies, Op. 59, firmly in the context of the work of many composers of the era, work which sought to celebrate and elevate folk melodies through their use in traditional classical structures. As the raw material for the twenty-four pieces which comprise Op. 59, Coleridge-Taylor selected eight melodies of African and West Indian origin and sixteen African American spirituals. In addition to the wide geographic area represented by his selected melodies, they also vary substantially in motive, mood, and meaning.

Coleridge-Taylor was born to an English mother and a Krio man from Sierra Leone whose study of medicine brought him to London. Samuel showed his musical talent very early, and his mother’s extended family, many of whom were musicians, supported his studies at the Royal College of Music, where he began at the age of 15, studying violin and later composition. By his early twenties, he was already establishing his reputation as a composer, and quickly earned the respect of both members of the British musical establishment such as Edward Elgar, and African American artists and scholars such as Paul Lawrence Dunbar, W.E.B. du Bois, and Booker T. Washington. The latter said of the composer and his Negro Melodies:

“It is given to but few men in so short a time to create for themselves a position of such prominence on two continents as has fallen to the lot of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. The transcription of Negro melodies is … the most complete expression of Mr. Coleridge-Taylor’s native bent and power … Using some of the native songs of Africa and the West Indies with songs that came into being in America during the slavery regime, he has in handling these melodies preserved their distinctive traits and individuality, at the same time giving them an art form fully imbued with their essential spirit.”



Artist Statement

I was not familiar with Coleridge-Taylor’s Twenty-Four Negro Melodies until the spring of 2020, when, in the midst of practicing in isolation during the COVID pandemic and cheering on the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, my dear friend and colleague Joe Williams suggested I look into the pieces.

Already on a personal journey to remedy gaps in my musical education as regards composers of color, and already committed to performing and recording lesser-known works, I dove into the project, sharing informal studio recordings of the pieces with my friends and family on Facebook, one per day over a period of twenty-four days in May 2020.

The pianistic and compositional brilliance of the works drew me in from the start, and my desire to study, learn, and share them only grew in the coming months. After living with the pieces for two years, and marvelling on a daily basis at the profound injustice of Coleridge-Taylor’s absence from the traditional piano canon, I made the decision to embark on this professional recording of the full set. I hope to inspire performers, teachers, and audiences alike to further exploration of this repertoire.


Acknowledgements

Thank you to Martin Buff of The Piano Studio for the use of his beautiful Steinway D and for contributing his expertise as recording engineer for the project.

Thank you to my mother, Laurie Davenport, the brilliant artist whose work graces this album, for capturing the spirit of the music in such profound images.

Thank you to my dear friend, the brilliant pianist, curator, and sound liberator Joe Williams, for more contributions to my life and artistry than I can count. Your support, encouragement, and belief in the importance of my contributions to this work have powered this project from day one. Being included among the world-class artists in your Music from Home series has lifted me to heights I didn’t think possible.

Thank you to Dr. Ross Salvosa and Dr. Mikhail Johnson for partnering with me and Joe to build such a supportive community in my studio, and specifically for listening and providing feedback on my performances of these works as I prepared to record.

Thank you to my piano students who took on the daunting task of learning one of these works yourselves in the past few years: Russel Brunton (Op. 59 No. 4), Corinne Dixon (Op. 59 No. 17), and Grace Heaney (Op. 59 No. 22). As my fellow teachers know, working with a student as they study a piece provides wonderful insights for your own performance of that work. Specifically, Russel, thank you for your friendship, your inspiration, and for your active role in challenging me to be a better teacher, especially from the standpoint of insuring that my students see themselves represented in the music and pedagogy shared in my studio.

And finally, thank you to so many friends, colleagues, and students who supported me in myriad ways, often through listening, whether to my excited babbling about the project or to audio clips to help choose a final mic mix: Dustin Annis, Dr. Gwynne Brown, Joe Chynoweth, Corinne Dixon, Karla Flygare, Dr. Paula Grissom-Broughton, Skyler Hedblom, Emily Johnson, William Lum, Jennifer Nelson, Grace Playstead, Drew Shipman, Joshua Thompson, Dr. Gregory Walker, and Dr. Anna Wittstruck.