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date: 17 January 2021

Shirley, Donald Walbridgelocked

  • Krin Gabbard


(b Pensacola, FL, Jan 29, 1927; d New York City, April 6, 2013). American pianist and composer. The son of Jamaican immigrants, Donald Shirley showed substantial promise as a pianist at an early age. At the age of 18, he made his début with the Boston Pops Orchestra performing a piano concerto by Tchaikovsky. He later studied music at the Catholic University in Washington. As a composer, he wrote symphonies, concerti, string quartets, works for organ, piano, and violin, a ‘Recorso’ inspired by James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, and an extended piece for piano that he called ‘an improvisation based on the story of Orpheus in the Underworld’. As a pianist, Shirley hoped to have a career in classical music, but after being told that audiences would not take an African American seriously as a classical artist, he chose to play jazz and popular music. For many years he played in clubs in New York City where he lived in an apartment directly above Carnegie Hall. Performing at Carnegie Hall in ...

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