George Walker

George Walker

1922 -

The first African-American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Music, George Theophilus Walker is well-known for his winning piece, Lilacs, of 1996. The work is for soprano or tenor and orchestra and sets the text of Walt Whitman.

Photo: George Walker,


Born in Washington D.C., George Walker began to play piano as a child and studied in the Junior Division of Howard University. He was admitted to Oberlin College following his first public piano recital at the age of 14. He later studied at the Curtis Institute, the American Conservatory, Fontainebleu (with Nadia Boulanger), and the Eastman School of Music, where he earned his D.M.A.

Walker is an accomplished pianist as well as composer, with many performance tours at home and abroad.

He has taught at several universities in the United States, his longest appointment at Rutgers University, from 1969 to 1992. He has received such prestigious fellowships as the Fulbright, Whitney, Guggenheim, Rockefeller and MacDowell. Walker received commissions from both the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.

While serialism is an influence on Walker's music, he works display aspects of neo-classicism in both texture and form.

George Walker's songs set the texts of a wide variety of American, English, and Scottish poets, including Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Countee Cullen, Emily Dickinson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Donald J. Hayes, and A. E. Housman.

--Christie Finn Source: Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr.'s article in the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians

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