Henry Burleigh

African-American composer, arranger, and performer Henry Thacker Burleigh was one of those late 19th-century musicians who heeded Antonin Dvořák's challenge to go forth and create a national school of music. In so doing, he became America's first prominent black composer.

Photo: Harry Thacker Burleigh, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right, 1927, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Digital ID: cph 3c14982

Print This Page

About

Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, on December 2, 1866, to free-born parents, Burleigh learned plantation melodies from his maternal grandfather, who had been a slave. Working to supplement the family’s income, the young Burleigh used his rich baritone to garner a number of singing jobs in local churches before winning a scholarship in 1892 to the National Conservatory of Music in New York, which was then headed by Dvořák.

At the Conservatory, Burleigh sang for the Czech master the spirituals and minstrel songs of the mid-19th century. So moved by his renditions was Dvořák that he urged the young African American to assemble and set down the folk tradition of his slave ancestors. As an editor at Ricordi, Burleigh began to publish these spirituals in 1911. In his 1916 collection, Jubilee Songs of the United States, he arranged the African-American melodies for piano and voice. It became the standard recital fare for the great singers of the day, as well as repertoire for vocal ensembles such as the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Hampton Singers. It includes Burleigh’s well-known arrangement of the spiritual “Deep River.” The success of these arrangements created a positive climate for Burleigh’s original songs and other choral and chamber compositions–over 200 works in all–including a setting of Walt Whitman’s “Ethiopia Saluting the Colors” (1915).

In addition to composing and editing, Burleigh retained the post of baritone soloist at St. George’s Episcopal Church in New York from 1894 to 1946; was the first African American chosen as soloist at Temple Emanu-El, a New York synagogue; won acclaim as a recitalist who sometimes accompanied himself on the piano; toured Europe; and gave command performances for royalty. Active until 1946, when he retired to a nursing home in Connecticut, Burleigh died on September 12, 1949 in Stamford, Connecticut.

Burleigh was a beloved and respected artist, and his career and compositions did a great deal to break down color barriers and further the understanding of and appreciation for the role African-American music has played in the larger history of American music. His arrangements brought the spirituals and “sorrow songs” (as W.E.B. Du Bois called them) out of their earlier home, plantation, and minstrel settings and onto the classical concert stage, where they were performed by black and white singers alike. His own songs enriched the repertoire with a deep sensitivity to text and emotion, as well as a singer’s sense of the dramatic, while his career as a performer did a great deal to pave the way for artists like Roland Hayes, Paul Robeson, and Marian Anderson.

–Thomas Hampson and Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold, PBS I Hear America Singing

Related Information

Videos

Recordings

Nobody Knows: Songs of Henry T. Burleigh

(Henry Burleigh)

2007

Song of America

(Leonard Bernstein, Henry Burleigh, Walter Damrosch, John Woods Duke, Stephen Foster, Charles Griffes, Ned Rorem, Charles Naginski, Clifford Shaw, Traditional, Abraham Wood, Elinor Remick Warren and Kurt Weill)

2005

Black Manhattan

(Henry Burleigh, Will Marion Cook and John Rosamond Johnson)

2003

The Paul Robeson Legacy

(Henry Burleigh, Earl Robinson and Traditional)

2001

I Hear America Singing

(Ernst Bacon, Jean Berger, Paul Bowles, Henry Burleigh, Stephen Foster, Ernest Gold, Charles Griffes, Richard Hageman, Sergius Kagen, Charles Martin Loeffler, Edward MacDowell, Charles Naginski, John Jacob Niles, Hermann Reutter, Frédéric Louis Ritter, Ned Rorem, William Grant Still, Hugo Weisgall and Tennessee Williams)

2001


View recording

Shall We Gather - American Hymns & Spirituals

(Henry Burleigh, Alexander Reinagle, George Frederick Root and Traditional)

2001

African-American Composers of 20th Century

(Henry Burleigh, Robert Owens, William Grant Still and Traditional)

2000

Art Songs of Harry T. Burleigh

(Henry Burleigh)

1995

Deep River: Songs and Spirituals of Harry T. Burleigh

(Henry Burleigh)

1994

The Civil War

(Henry Burleigh, Daniel Decatur Emmett, Stephen Foster, John Hill Hewitt, Abraham Lincoln, George Frederick Root, Henry Russell, Traditional, Joseph Philbrick Webster and Henry Clay Work)

1993

Where the Music Comes From

(Lee Hoiby, Celius Dougherty, Ned Rorem, Henry Burleigh, Samuel Barber, Arthur Farwell and Charles Griffes)

1991

The Essential Leontyne Price

(Henry Burleigh and John Jacob Niles)

1982

A Recital - Marian Anderson

(Henry Burleigh and Traditional)

1951

Paul Robeson - The Complete EMI Sessions

(Charles Wakefield Cadman, Henry Burleigh, Benjamin Carr, Will Marion Cook, Stephen Foster, Langston Hughes, Carrie Jacobs-Bond, Ethelbert Nevin, Oscar Rasbach, Oley Speaks and Traditional)

1938

Books

Hard Trials: The Life and Music of Harry T. Burleigh

By Anne Key Simpson

Harry T. Burleigh: From the Spiritual to the Harlem Renaissance

By Jean E. Snyder

Dvořák in America, 1892-1895

By John C. Tibbetts

Dvořák in America: In Search of the New World

By Joseph Horowitz

Juvenile Nonfiction: suitable for elementary and junior high students

Songs

Ahmed's Song of Farewell

Henry Burleigh

Frederick G. Bowles

Song Collection: Sarcen Songs

Almona: Song of Hassan

Henry Burleigh

Frederick G. Bowles

Song Collection: Sarcen Songs

Among the Fuchsias

Henry Burleigh

Laurence Hope

Song Collection: Five Songs of Laurence Hope

Deep River

Henry Burleigh

Traditional

Ethiopia Saluting the Colors

Henry Burleigh

Walt Whitman

Five Songs of Laurence Hope

Song Collection

Henry Burleigh

Laurence Hope

Go Down, Moses

Henry Burleigh

Traditional

Her Eyes, Twin Pools

Henry Burleigh

James Weldon Johnson

Song Collection: Passionale

His Helmet's Blaze: Almona's Song of Yussouf to Hassan

Henry Burleigh

Frederick G. Bowles

Song Collection: Sarcen Songs

I Hear His Footsteps, Music Sweet: Almona's Song of Delight

Henry Burleigh

Frederick G. Bowles

Song Collection: Sarcen Songs

I Want to Die While You Love Me

Henry Burleigh

Georgia Douglas Johnson

Jean

Henry Burleigh

Frank Lebby Stanton

Kashmiri Song

Henry Burleigh

Laurence Hope

Song Collection: Five Songs of Laurence Hope

Lovely, Dark, and Lonely One

Henry Burleigh

Langston Hughes

Passionale

Henry Burleigh

James Weldon Johnson

Song Collection: Five Songs of Laurence Hope

O, Night of Dream and Wonder: Almona's Song

Henry Burleigh

Frederick G. Bowles

Song Collection: Sarcen Songs

Sarcen Songs

Song Collection

Henry Burleigh

Frederick G. Bowles

The Jungle Flower

Henry Burleigh

Laurence Hope

Song Collection: Five Songs of Laurence Hope

The Glory of the Day was in Her Face

Henry Burleigh

James Weldon Johnson

Song Collection: Passionale

The Grey Wolf

Henry Burleigh

Arthur Symons

The Young Warrior

Henry Burleigh

James Weldon Johnson

This is Nirvana: Yussouf's Song to Almona

Henry Burleigh

Frederick G. Bowles

Song Collection: Sarcen Songs

Thou Art Weary: Almona's Song to Yussouf

Henry Burleigh

Frederick G. Bowles

Song Collection: Sarcen Songs

Tide

Henry Burleigh

Francis Bacon Paine

Till I Wake

Henry Burleigh

Laurence Hope

Song Collection: Five Songs of Laurence Hope

Waiting

Henry Burleigh

Martha Gilbert Dickinson Bianchi

Worth While

Song Collection

Henry Burleigh

Laurence Hope

Song Collection: Five Songs of Laurence Hope

Your Eyes So Deep

Henry Burleigh

James Weldon Johnson

Song Collection: Passionale

Your Lips are Wine

Henry Burleigh

James Weldon Johnson

Song Collection: Passionale

Audio

Track:

    Sheet Music

    25 Spirituals Arranged by Harry T. Burleigh

    Voice Type: High

    Buy via Classical Vocal Reprints

    25 Spirituals Arranged by Harry T. Burleigh

    Voice Type: Low

    Buy via Classical Vocal Reprints

    "Ethiopia Saluting the Colors"

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    Voice Type: Medium

    Buy via Classical Vocal Reprints

    Five Songs of Laurence Hope

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    Song(s): 1. Worth While
    2. The Jungle Flower
    3. Kashmiri Song
    4. Among the Fuchsias
    5. Till I Wake 

    Voice Type: High

    Buy via Classical Vocal Reprints

    "Five Songs of Laurence Hope"

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    Song(s): 1. Worth While
    2. The Jungle Flower
    3. Kashmiri Song
    4. Among the Fuchsias
    5. Till I Wake 

    Free Sheet Music on IMSLP

    IMSLP: H. T. Burleigh Sheet Music

    Find via IMSLP

    "Jean"

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    View via WorldCat

    Passionale

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    Song(s): 1. Her Eyes, Twin Pools
    2. Your Lips are Wine
    3. Your Eyes So Deep
    4. The Glory of the Day was in Her Face

    Voice Type: High

    Buy via Classical Vocal Reprints

    "Sarcen Songs"

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    Song(s): 1. Almona: Song of Hassan
    2. O, Night of Dream and Wonder: Almona's Song
    3. His Helmet's Blaze: Almona's Song of Yussouf to Hassan
    4. I Hear His Footsteps, Music Sweet: Almona's Song of Delight
    5. Thou Art Weary: Almona's Song to Yussouf
    6. This is Nirvana: Yussouf's Song to Almona
    7. Ahmed's Song of Farewell

    View via Library of Congress

    Sarcen Songs

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    Voice Type: High

    Buy via Classical Vocal Reprints

    Saracen Songs

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    Voice Type: Low

    Buy via Classical Vocal Reprints

    Three Shadows

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    Voice Type: High

    Buy via Classical Vocal Reprints

    Three Shadows

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    Voice Type: Medium

    Buy via Classical Vocal Reprints

    "The Glory of the Day was in Her Face"

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    View via Library of Congress

    "The Grey Wolf"

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    Buy via Classical Vocal Reprints

    The Sacred Collection, High Voice

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    Voice Type: High

    Buy via Sheet Music Plus

    The Sacred Collection, Medium/Low Voice

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    Voice Type: Medium/Low

    Buy via Sheet Music Plus

    'The Spirituals of Harry T. Burleigh,' Low Voice

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    Voice Type: Low

    Buy via Sheet Music Plus

    'The Young Warrior'

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    View via Library of Congress

    "Tide" Sheet Music (Low Voice)

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    Voice Type: Low

    View via Library of Congress

    "Tide" Sheet Music (High Voice)

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    Voice Type: High

    View via Library of Congress

    "Waiting" Sheet Music (High Voice)

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    Voice Type: High

    View via Library of Congress

    "Waiting" Sheet Music (Low Voice)

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    Voice Type: Low

    View via Library of Congress

    "Your Eyes so Deep"

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    View via Library of Congress

    "Your Lips are Wine"

    Composer(s): H. T. Burleigh

    View via Library of Congress

    Support us and help us grow

    Dear friends, Thank you for helping us build a comprehensive online archive of American song. Your gift is greatly appreciated.