Remembering Montclair’s Pioneering Composer George Walker, 1922-2018

George Walker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, pianist and educator and a Montclair resident, died Thursday at Mountainside Hospital, reports NPR. Walker was 96.

In 1996, Walker became the first African-American composer to win a Pulitzer Prize for music for Lilacs, a composition for voice and orchestra that features stanzas from Walt Whitman’s poem, When Lilacs Last In The Dooryard Bloom’d, a reflection on the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Lilacs was commissioned and premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Seiji Ozawa) featuring soprano Faye Robinson. Below is a 2000 recording (released in 2005 by Summit Records) by the Arizona State University Symphony Orchestra with Robinson.

The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra shared this on Facebook: “George Walker, a Montclair resident, was a pioneering American composer and pianist. The NJSO was honored to premiere multiple commissions that bore the hallmarks of his unique artistic voice. The 1997 premiere of his ‘Pageant and Proclamation’ for the opening of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center was a proud moment for the arts in New Jersey. We are saddened at his passing and celebrate his legacy.”

Walker is survived by his two sons — Ian Walker, a playwright, and Gregory T.S. Walker, a violinist and former concertmaster of the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra in Colorado.

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