Howard Swanson

Some of Swanson's most lasting and masterful compositions are art songs, setting the poetry of American poets Paul Laurence Dunbar, T. S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, Vachel Lindsay, Carl Sandburg, and several others.

Photo: Howard Swanson, The New Georgia Encyclopedia

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Born in Georgia, Howard Swanson’s family moved to Cleveland when he was nine, and Swanson studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music. After studying with Nadia Boulanger in 1938, Swanson spent two intensive periods studying and traveling in New York. He finally settled in New York City in 1966. There he met Langston Hughes, and the two became close friends. Swanson set much of Hughes’ poetry and was able to often consult with the poet himself while doing so.

Thanks to Marian Anderson’s 1949 performance of Howard Swanson’s song “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” Swanson’s music began to gain national attention. He won several awards, including the Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Academy of Arts and Letters grant.

Swanson’s neo-classical compositional method is appealing to a wide range of listeners, with graceful melodies and a touch of jazz and idioms of black American folk music.

–Christie Finn

Source: Eileen Southern’s article in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians

Related Information



Songs of America: Oral Moses

(Aaron Copland, Florence Price and Howard Swanson)


Dreamer - A Portrait of Langston Hughes

(Margaret Bonds, William Grant Still, Kurt Weill, Henry Burleigh, Robert Owens, John Musto, Ricky Ian Gordon, Howard Swanson, Jean Berger, Erik Santos and Florence Price)


The Negro Speaks of Rivers

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


The Black Art Song

(Howard Swanson)


Songs of Illumination

(Howard Swanson)


Sheet Music

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 (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

Second Anthology of Art Songs by Black American Composers

Composer(s): Leslie Adams, Adolphus Hailstork, John Rosamond Johnson, Hall Johnson, Betty Jackson King, Howard Swanson, John W. Work III

Buy via Videmus

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