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.

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, Howard Swanson and Traditional)


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

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

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