Thomas H. Kerr

Print This Page

About

Thomas Henderson Kerr, Jr. was born on January 3, 1915 in Baltimore, Maryland. Kerr was raised in a musical family. His father, Thomas Henderson Kerr, Sr., was a famous orchestra leader and composer. From a young age, Kerr played the piano, even teaching himself how to play the organ. At the age of 14, he was playing for churches and in nightclubs. He attended Douglass High School, whose famous alumni also include composer Mark Fax, jazz singer and bandleader Cab Calloway, and soprano Anne Brown, who originated the role of Bess in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.

Following high school, Kerr dreamed of attending the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, but African American students were not admitted during that period of time. He, instead, attended Howard University for one year before continuing his musical studies at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. At Eastman, he completed his Bachelor of Music degree in piano and theory, as well as his Master’s degree in theory.

Kerr began composing music while was a member of the music faculty at Knoxville College in Tennessee. In 1943, he returned to Howard University as a Professor of Piano and the Chairman of the Piano Department. He remained at Howard University until his retirement in 1976, after more than 30 years as a member of the faculty.

On August 26, 1988, Kerr was hit by a car in Adelphi, Maryland. In a statement issued by the county’s police department, it was reported the driver had a green light when he stuck Kerr. It was theorized that Kerr may not have been able to see the light change due to his cataracts. He was taken to the Washington Hospital Center where he died at the age of 73.

At the time of his death, Kerr had composed more than one hundred pieces, including works for piano, voice, organ, choir, and chamber ensembles. He had even begun composing an opera that was never completed about the life of Frederick Douglass. He was also the recipient of the Rosenwald Fellowship for Composition in 1942 as well as the first-place prize of the Composers and Authors of America Contest in 1944.

–Jasmine Mould (Christie Finn, ed.)

This biographical essay is made possible because of the Song of America Initiative for African-American Classic Song, a collaboration between the Hampsong Foundation and Dr. Scott Piper’s Winter 2016 course “The Art Songs of African American Composers” at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Bibliography:

“KENNETH B. ROLLINS DIES AT 52.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 30 Aug. 1988. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

Kerr, Hortense R., and Marva Cooper. “Selected Piano Music of Thomas H. Kerr, Jr.” Music Research Institute, Aug. 2002. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

Perkins Holly, Ellistine. Biographies of Black Composers and Songwriters: A Supplementary Textbook. Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1990.

“Thomas Henderson Kerr, Jr. Papers, 1931-2002.” ArchiveGrid. OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

Related Information

Songs

Recordings

How Sweet the Sound

(Thomas H. Kerr)

2011

Jessye Norman: Sacred Songs & Spirituals

(Thomas H. Kerr)

2005

Sheet Music

An Anthology of African and African Diaspora Songs - 60 Songs

Composer(s): H. Leslie Adams, David N. Baker, Margaret Bonds, Charles Brown, H. T. Burleigh, Valerie Capers, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Arthur Cunningham, Harriette Davison Watkins, William Dawson, Mark Fax, Bruce Forsythe, Antônio Carlos Gomes, Adolphus Hailstork, Jacqueline Hairston, Maud Cuney Hare, Jeraldine Herbison, Jonathan Holland, Sylvia Hollifield, Langston Hughes, J. Rosamond Johnson, Thomas Kerr, Lena McLin, Undine Smith Moore, Andre Myers, Camille Nickerson, Fred Onovwerosuoke, Eurydice Osterman, Robert Owens, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, Zenobia Powell Perry, Rosephanye Powell, Florence Price, Dave Ragland, Nadine Shanti, Carlos Simon, Hale Smith, Irene Britton Smith, Brandon Spencer, Hilbert Stewart, Howard Swanson, George Walker, Aurelia Young

Song(s): Amazing Grace (H. Leslie Adams)
Christmas Lullaby (H. Leslie Adams)
Sence You Went Away (H. Leslie Adams)
The Heart of a Woman (H. Leslie Adams)
The Alarm Clock (David N. Baker)
The Negro Speaks of Rivers (Margaret Bonds)
Caring (Charles Brown)
Desire (Charles Brown)
Your Eyes So Deep (H. T. Burleigh)
Your Lips Are Wine (H. T. Burleigh)
Autumn (Valerie Capers)
Elëanore (Samuel Coleridge-Taylor)
The Willow Song (Samuel Coleridge-Taylor)
Minakesh (Arthur Cunningham)
Stars (Harriette Davison Watkins)
Out in the Fields (William Dawson)
The Refused (Mark Fax)
With Rue My Heart Is Laden (Bruce Forsythe)
Suspiro d’alma (Antônio Carlos Gomes)
If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking (Adolphus Hailstork)
Longing (Adolphus Hailstork)
Loveliest of Trees (Adolphus Hailstork)
Dormi, Jesu (Jacqueline Hairston)
Gardé Piti Mulet Là (Maud Cuney Hare)
I’ll Not Forget (Jeraldine Herbison)
Little Elegy (Jonathan Holland)
In Time of Silver Rain (Sylvia Hollifield)
The Founding Fathers (Langston Hughes)
This is My Land (Langston Hughes)
L’il Gal (J. Rosamond Johnson)
Soliloquy (Thomas Kerr)
Amazing Grace (Lena McLin)
The Year’s at the Spring (Lena McLin)
I Am in Doubt (Undine Smith Moore)
I Want to Die While You Love Me (Undine Smith Moore)
For a Poet (Andre Myers)
Chere, Mo Lemmé Toi (Camille Nickerson)
Gué, Gué, Solingaie (Camille Nickerson)
Mshila (Fred Onovwerosuoke)
Entreaty (I Am the Rose of Sharon) (Eurydice Osterman)
Could I but Ride Indefinite (Robert Owens)
Die Nacht (Robert Owens)
From the Dark Tower (Robert Owens)
The Lynching (Robert Owens)
The Secret (Robert Owens)
Madrigal (Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson)
O Children of Men (Zenobia Powell Perry)
I Want to Die While You Love Me (Rosephanye Powell)
Spring (Florence Price)
The Sum (Florence Price)
Martin Luther King, Jr. (Dave Ragland)
Mangez, Boulez (Eat, Drink, Be Merry) (Nadine Shanti)
Prayer (Carlos Simon)
Troubled Woman (Hale Smith)
Why Fades a Dream? (Irene Britton Smith)
Dream Variations (Brandon Spencer)
Spring Song (Hilbert Stewart)
One Day (Howard Swanson)
I Went to Heaven (George Walker)
Norris Swamp (Aurelia Young)

Voice Type: 36 Songs are for High Voice - Medium to High Voice
24 Songs are for Medium - Medium to Low Voice

Buy via Classical Vocal Reprints

Anthology of Art Songs by Black American Composers, Compiled by Willis C. Patterson

Composer(s): H. Leslie Adams, David Baker, Margaret Bonds, Charles Brown, Cecil Cohen, Noel de Costa, Mark Fax, Adolphus C. Hailstork, Eugene Hancock, Thomas Kerr, Jr., Charles Lloyd, Jr., Wendell Logan, Maurice McCall, Dorothy Rudd Moore, Undine Smith Moore, Robert Owens, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, Florence Price, Hale Smith, William Grant Still, Howard Swanson, George Walker, Olly Wilson, John Work, Jr.

Song(s): For You There is No Song (H. Leslie Adams)
Early in the Mornin' (David Baker)
A Good Assassination Should Be Quiet (David Baker)
Status Symbol (David Baker)
Three Dream Portraits: Minstrel Man; Dream Variations; I, Too (Margaret Bonds)
The Barrier (Charles Brown)
Song Without Words (Charles Brown)
Death of an Old Seaman (Cecil Cohen)
Two Songs for Julie Ju (Noel da Costa)
Cassandra's Lullaby (Mark Fax)
Love (Mark Fax)
A Charm at Parting (Adolphus C. Hailstork)
I Loved You (Adolphus C. Hailstork)
Absalom (Eugene Hancock)
Nunc Dimittis (Eugene Hancock)
Riding to Town (Thomas Kerr, Jr.)
Compensation (Charles Lloyd, Jr.)
If There Be Sorrow (Wendell Logan)
Marrow of My Bone (Wendell Logan)
Chanson Triste (Maurice McCall)
Sweet Sorrow (Maurice McCall)
Weary Blues (Dorothy Rudd Moore)
Love Let the Wind Cry...How I Adore Thee (Undine Moore)
Faithful One (Robert Owens)
Genius Child (Robert Owens)
A Child's Grace (Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson)
Melancholy (Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson)
Night (Florence Price)
Song to the Dark Virgin (Florence Price)
Velvet Shoes (Hale Smith)
Grief (William Grant Still)
A Death Song (Howard Swanson)
I Will Lie Down in Autumn (Howard Swanson)
The Negro Speaks of Rivers (Howard Swanson)
Lament (George Walker)
A Red, Red Rose (George Walker)
Wry Fragments (Olly Wilson)
Dancing in the Sun (John Work, Jr.)
Soliloquy (John Work, Jr.)

Buy via Classical Vocal Reprints

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.