From the Archives: A Celebration of NEC’s African American Legacy (Part I)
As Black History Month comes to a close, we celebrate Black alumni from the earliest years of the Conservatory. Members of the Black Student Union worked with NEC archivists Maryalice Perrin-Mohr and Cody Forrest to research Black history and artistry from the early years of NEC.
This photo essay highlights a selection of NEC alumni from the Conservatory's founding (1867) through the first class of Bachelor's degree recipients (1932.)
Rachel M. Washington
Commencement program listing Rachel M. Washington, 1872. She was most likely the first African American to graduate from NEC. She majored in voice.
Nellie Brown Mitchell
Nellie Brown (Mitchell) (1845-1924) studied voice at NEC in 1873. She had a significant career as a soprano soloist throughout New England and the United States and formed her own opera company, the Nellie Brown Mitchell Concert Company.
Maud Cuney Hare
Maud Cuney (Hare) (1874-1936), music historian, concert pianist, and playwright studied piano at NEC in 1890. She is perhaps best known for her book, Negro Musicians and Their Music, first published in 1936.
J. Rosamund Johnson
While J. Rosamund Johnson is chiefly remembered today as the composer of the Black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," he also had a varied career as a pianist, songwriter, producer, soldier, singer, and actor. He was an important figure in black music in the first part of the 20th Century, usually in partnership with Bob Cole or with his brother James Weldon Johnson.
Johnson attended NEC for 4 semesters in 1893, studying piano with Charles F. Dennee and voice with William H. Dunham.
Fannie Barrier Williams
Fannie Barrier (Williams) (1855-1944), studied piano and art at NEC in 1894. She was a teacher, social activist, clubwoman, lecturer, and journalist who worked for social justice, civil liberties, education, and employment opportunities, especially for black women.
Walter Howard Loving
Walter Howard Loving was a soldier and musician most noted for his leadership of the Philippine Constabulary Band. The son of formerly enslaved parents, Loving led the band during the 1909 U.S. presidential inaugural parade, where it formed the official musical escort to the President of the United States, the first time a band other than the U.S. Marine Band had been assigned that duty.
Florence Beatrice Smith Price (1887-1953) earned two NEC diplomas in 1906: one in organ as a soloist and one in piano as a teacher. Price, an American classical composer, was the first African American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer, and the first to have a composition played by a major orchestra. Her Symphony in E minor premiered with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933.
Isabele Taliaferro Spiller
Isabele Taliaferro Spiller (1888-1974), earned a Certificate in Public School Music from NEC in 1909. She became a Harlem Music Educator, assistant manager for the Musical Spillers (1912-1926), and director of the Spiller Music School, founded in 1926.
Louis Vaughn Jones
Louis Vaughn Jones earned a diploma in violin as a teacher in 1918. Jones served in France during World War I with the Army as assistant conductor of the 807th Pioneer Infantry Band. In 1930, Jones became professor and head of the violin department at Howard University, a position he held until 1960.
1932: The First NEC Class to Earn Bachelor's Degrees
In 1932, thirteen students became the first to graduate with Bachelor's degrees from NEC. Among them were Luther Fuller and Anna Bobbitt Gardner.
Luther Fuller was the first African American man to earn a Bachelor’s degree at NEC. He specialized in musicology and graduated in 1932. He previously taught in Texas and served in the first World War, and he went on to earn a Master's degree at Boston University. His academic thesis at NEC was titled "The religious songs of the American Negro."
Anna Bobbitt Gardner
In 1931, Anna Bobbitt Gardner (1901-1997) earned a diploma in school music and went on to become the first African American woman to be awarded a Bachelor’s degree from NEC the following year.
Bobbitt founded the Academy of Musical Arts (1-3 Claremont St., Boston). She operated at least five studios in Boston under the same name for more than sixty years, the first in the basement of her home in 1924. She managed Colored American Nights, featuring African American musicians at Symphony Hall, and produced local radio and television programs for an African American audience.