The Human Harmony Project strives to amplify traditionally underrepresented voices in the musical and composition world, including composers who are people of color and/or female. I urge musicians and appreciators of music to challenge the archetype of a “classical” composer and resist the Eurocentric practices of the piano world.
Here you will find a working, growing list of composers who are POC and women whose life stories you can study and share and whose work you can purchase and play. You will find the full biographies of each composer linked to their names, as well as links to purchase their compositions for piano. Although most of these resources pertain to piano music, at the bottom of the page, there are other organizations that work to amplify underrepresented musicians and composers for you to explore. As you discover the works and stories of these talented composers, I hope that you reconsider the dominance of historically Eurocentric and White American narratives and practices in music and take action in your daily life to learn about, support, and amplify underrepresented perspectives.
Florence Beatrice Price was an African American classical composer, pianist, organist and music teacher, who was the first African American woman a symphony performed by a major American orchestra. She learned the piano from her mother, publishing her first composition at age 11. As a single woman later in her life, she supported herself through the sales of her compositions. Purchase her composition for piano Sonata in E Minor, Fantasie nègre No. 2 in G Minor, and other works here.
Called “the father of modern gospel,” Andraé Crouch was an American Christian pastor, gospel singer, songwriter, and arranger. His musical formation took place as a child in his parents’ church in Southern California, and he often told the story about how his piano-playing was literally God-given when he was a child, according to a website dedicated to his memory. Purchase the songbook “Best of Andraé Crouch” here.
Duke Ellington was an influential American jazz icon and brought American jazz music to international audiences on his world tours. He is known for “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing,” “Mood Indigo,” and “Satin Doll,” and he has received recognition as a composer and band leader, earning the President’s Gold Medal, the Medal of Freedom, 13 Grammy Awards, and a posthumous special citation from the Pulitzer Prize Board. When asked what inspired him to write, Ellington replied, “My men and my race are the inspiration of my work. I try to catch the character and mood and feeling of my people,” according to a website dedicated to his memory. Find Jazz Piano Solos Series Volume 9, Dancers In Love, and other works by Ellington here.
Tailleferre was a 20th century French pianist and composer who was the only female member of the group of composers Les Six. She was a prolific composer, writing music for chamber, film, and performance as well as for many levels of musicians. Find her works here and on IMSLP, including Impromptu and Pastorale for piano.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was an English conductor and classical composer. He began playing the violin and joined the choir at age 5, later studying at the Royal College of Music. His work was influenced by Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, and Grieg and contain a spontaneity derived from his appreciation of African American folk music. Find Valse Bohémienne, Petite Suite de Concert, and other works here.
Known as the “Dean of African-American Composers,” William Grant Still was a conductor and classical composer famous for his Afro-American Symphony (1931). He set the ballets Sahdji (1930) and composed them after studying African music, and his 1930s music was influenced by the jazz band and the African American musical style. Find his sheet music collections here.
Billy “Sweet Pea” Strayhorn was an American jazz composer whose works include “Take the A-Train,” which was made famous by Duke Ellington, whose band he joined in 1939. In his youth, he played the piano everyday, sometimes becoming so engrossed that he would be late for his job, according to a website dedicated to his memory. Strayhorn was also openly gay and participated in many civil rights causes in an era rife with homophobia and racism. Find The Art of Billy Strayhorn and The Billy Strayhorn Collection, A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing, and more works by Strayhorn here.
Margaret Bonds was an American composer and pianist who heavily involved with the civil rights movement and the Harlem Renaissance. She frequently collaborated with the African American poet and activist Langston Hughes on works such as The Ballad of the Brown King and The Negro Speaks of Rivers. Her mother gave her piano lessons, and she learned composition in school with Florence Price and William Dawson and at Northwestern University. Her works blend styles of European and African origin, including influences of African American spirituals such as “Troubled Water,” a transcription of the spiritual “Wade in Water.” Find her voice and piano works here and included here.
Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora Edited by William H. Chapman Nyaho; five volumes for solo piano.
Four Early 20th Century Piano Suites by Black Composers containing: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Three-Fours; Harry T. Burleigh: From the Southlan; R. Nathaniel Dett: In the Bottom; Artie Matthews: Five Pastime Rags.
When possible, links go to Bookshop, an online bookstore where you can support local bookshops.
From Spirituals to Symphonies: African-American Women Composers and Their Music by Helen Walker-Hill. The book discusses the history and scope of contributions by African American women from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Walker-Hill also explores the backgrounds, experiences, and musical compositions of eight women including Margaret Bonds, Undine Smith Moore, and Julia Perry, who combined techniques of Western music with their own cultural traditions.
The Music of Black Americans: A History by Eileen Southern
Good for What, Good for Whom?: Decolonizing Music Education Philosophies by Deborah Gail Bradley
Lectures, Podcasts, and Other Media
Decomposed, a podcast that tells the stories that have shaped classical music “from secrets and scandals to acts of sheer genius.” The first season discusses “gender expectations, Cold War propaganda, and the danger of putting your personal life on the stage.”
“Classically Black: Piano Compositions by Composer of African Descent” concert/lecture by Richard C Alston
Samantha Ege’s Four Women is a wonderful solo piano album with works by Florence Price, Vítězslava Kaprálová, Ethel Bilsland and Margaret Bonds. In her words: “Pianist Samantha Ege journeys through a diverse range of styles and influences—from African American folk songs and classical forms in Florence Price’s Sonata in E Minor to modernist explorations of Czech musical identity in the compositions of Vítězslava Kaprálová; from evocations of Edwardian English childhood in the miniatures of Ethel Bilsland (world première recording), to Romantic expressions of spiritual melodies inflected with jazz and blues in the music of Margaret Bonds.”
Other Organizations and Resources
Art of the Heart: Art of the Heart Art provides young musicians with a space to showcase their talents while bringing the joy and comfort of music to senior citizens, the developmentally challenged, pediatric patients, and low-income adults.
If you have feedback or would like to see a specific composer or group represented on this page, please contact email@example.com.