Harry Lawrence Freeman

Thanks to the great work of Mellon Project Archival Processor Anne Holt, Columbia GSAS 2013, the papers of Harry Lawrence Freeman have now been processed and are available for use by researchers. The collection provides a wide range of materials related to American opera and to the artistic performance and social history of African-Americans from about 1890-1950.

Freeman is credited as being the first African-American to write an opera that was successfully produced. This was his Epthelia, that premiered at the Deutsches Theater in Denver on February 9, 1893 with a cast of 60. His second opera, The Martyr premiered there on August 16, 1893, and was performed with an inter-racial cast at Carnegie Hall in 1947, the composer conducting.

As part of the Carnegie Hall Festival Honor! A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy this spring, curated by Jessye Norman, the piano/vocal score of The Martyr from the Freeman Papers is on display in Carnegie Hall’s Rose Museum.

Freeman’s entry in Wikipedia states “Although many of his works were successful during his lifetime, they are not played today.” The reason for this is that his works were performed from the manuscripts, now at Columbia, and only a very few have been published. We hope to change this by finding sponsors to fund transfer of the manuscripts to performance copies.

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