Undine Smith Moore

A native of Virginia, Undine Smith Moore was a professor at Virginia State University for decades and co-founded and co-directed the university's Black Music Center.

Photo: Undine Smith Moore, photograph by Atkinson, 1984.

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    Undine Smith Moore was a visionary composer of the mid-20th century. She is hailed as the Dean of Black Women Composers and self-described as “a teacher who composes, not simply a composer who teaches.” Her artistic output spans over 100 compositions from piano works, small ensembles and most notably choral arrangements and solo voice literature.

    Her musical start began in Virginia as a piano student. Her mother sang and her family history encouraged the exposure to spirituals and slave songs, which would later shape her own compositions. She attended the historic Fisk University where she studied piano and began composing. A truly brilliant mind, she graduated and was the first at Fisk to be offered a scholarship to Juilliard. Her career path led her to head up the music program for the public school system in Goldsboro, North Carolina. While juggling this leadership position she simultaneously pursued her Master of Arts in Teaching at Columbia University. Though her primary place of education was Columbia she still had the opportunity to collaborate and train at Juilliard, Eastman and the Manhattan School of Music. She later became a member of the music faculty at Virginia State University where she taught music theory, piano and organ for a career span of 40 years. She co-founded the Black Music Center at Virginia State and is known for her research and presentations on Black composers.

    Her first composition was a choral piece entitled Sir Olaf and the Erl King’s Daughter, in which the text was based on Norwegian folklore. Her music was highly influenced by European Romanticism. Her song “Love, Let the Wind Cry” is sets the text of the Ancient Greek poet Sappho. Her time in New York was also paramount in that it was shaped by the flowering of new musical ideas that arose from the Harlem Renaissance. Additionally, she was honored as a nominee for the Pulitzer Prize for her historic composition of a 16-section choral cantata entitled Scenes from the Life of a Martyr. This piece was for narrator, chorus, orchestra, and soloists and depicted scenes from the life of. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The work also includes interpolation from the Bible and various poets. Moore also traveled to Africa in the 1970’s and was incredibly moved by the racial realities of apartheid. She composed a chamber piece called Soweto, which was inspired by her eye opening experiences in the South African town. Some of her other works include the choral work Daniel, Daniel, servant of the Lord; the song “Lord, We Give Thanks to Thee “(for the centennial of the Fist Jubilee Singers); Afro-American Suite (for flute, cello & piano); the song “Lyric for Truelove”; and an arrangement of the Spiritual “Watch and Pray.” Moore died in 1989 in Petersburg, Virginia.

    –Kayla Hill (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.


    Floyd, Samuel A. International Dictionary of Black Composers. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999. Print.

    Henderson, Ashyia N. Contemporary Black Biography: Profiles from the International Black Community. Vol. 28. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Inc, 2001. Print.

    Hitchcock, H. W., and Stanley Sadie. The New Grove Dictionary of American Music. New York, NY: Grove’s Dictionaries of Music, 1986. Print.

    Manheim, James. “Moore, Undine Smith.” Contemporary Musicians. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jul. 2016.

    Walker-Hill, Helen. From Spirituals to Symphonies: African American Women Composers and Their Music. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002. (This resource includes a timeline of Moore’s life, biographical information, and information regarding Moore’s compositional output.)

    Related Information




    "Singing Justice" Seminar Recital

    (Margaret Bonds, Henry T. Burleigh, Maud Cuney Hare, Adolphus C. Hailstork, Lori Hicks, Hall Johnson, John Rosamond Johnson, Undine Smith Moore, Robert L. Morris, Robert Owens, Rosephanye Powell, Florence Price, Brandon J Spencer and Spiritual)


    View recording

    I, Too

    (H. Leslie Adams, Margaret Bonds, Undine Smith Moore, Florence Price and Hall Johnson)



    (Undine Smith Moore)


    The Negro Speaks of Rivers

    (H. Leslie Adams, Margaret Bonds, Charles Samuel Brown, Undine Smith Moore, Robert Owens, George Walker, Howard Swanson, Florence Price, Henry Clay Work and Cecil Cohen)


    Ah! Love, But A Day

    (Amy Marcy Beach, Margaret Bonds, Libby Larsen, Margaret Ruthven Lang, Undine Smith Moore, Florence Price, Gladys Rich and Gwyneth Van Anden Walker)



    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

    Come Down Angels (Trouble the Water)

    Composer(s): Undine Smith Moore

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    I Am In Doubt

    Composer(s): Undine Smith Moore

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    Is There Anybody Here That Loves My Jesus?

    Composer(s): Undine Smith Moore

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    Love Let the Wind Cry...How I Adore Thee

    Composer(s): Undine Smith Moore

    Buy via Hildegard Publishing Company

    Lyric for Truelove

    Composer(s): Undine Smith Moore

    Buy via Hildegard Publishing Company

    Watch and Pray

    Composer(s): Undine Smith Moore

    Buy via Hildegard Publishing Company

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